In a season of ups and downs, the Hoosiers continue to trudge through the increasingly unpredictable and rough Big Ten conference play by hosting the No. 11 Michigan State Spartans (14-4, 6-1 B1G) who have Conference Player of the Year hopeful and the all-time Big Ten leader in assists, Cassius Winston.

Indiana started the season with expectations to make a push for the NCAA Tournament and have several solid Quadrant I wins against teams such as Ohio State and Florida State (both at home), but one of the biggest areas they were lacking was a road win especially in the Big Ten until last weekend. The Hoosiers traveled to Lincoln, Neb. and defeated the Cornhuskers, 82-74. Even though the Cornhuskers are near the bottom of the Big Ten, any road win in the conference is tough to come by.

Additionally, Indiana has no “bad losses.” This is something that should not get overlooked when teams across the country like Kentucky have bad losses that are carved into their resumes. Regardless, Indiana needs more help to solidify their resume and punch a ticket into the NCAA Tournament and hosting Michigan State is an opportunity to do so that the Hoosiers need to capitalize on.

Indiana has had recent success against the Spartans handing the Final Four team from a year ago their only home loss, and going 0-2 on the season to Indiana. Both were impressive games by the Hoosiers in a season where Indiana had struggled immensely in conference play having losing streaks of five and seven games on separate occasions.

Michigan State does not have the dominant team as last year. On the flip side, Indiana has been able to keep relatively healthy since the non-conference and they are starting to show signs of improvement after a five to six game period of lackluster floor performance.

As fans of the conference witness every single evening, anything is possible when it comes to Big Ten conference play this season.

How to Watch

WhoMichigan State Spartans at Indiana Hoosiers
WhenThursday Jan. 23, 2020 8:30 p.m. ET
WhereSimon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana
TicketsFind the Lowest Ticket Prices on SeatGeek
WatchFS1
StatsLive Stats
ListenIU Radio Network
SpreadMichigan State -3.5

Getting to Know the Spartans

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has once again put together and developed a top tier team that is looking to make a deep push into the NCAA Tournament. As the last undefeated team in conference play, they have been consistent and playing their best basketball on the year until they traveled to Mackey Arena to face the Boilermakers and were embarrassed in a 71-42 loss. Fortunately for the Spartans, they stepped up against Wisconsin team and won 67-55 at home.

No one is concerned that the Spartans are not real, and the Purdue game was on the road in a very hostile, difficult arena. Tom Izzo acknowledged this and will look to find ways to prevent this from happening again when they travel to Bloomington to another one of the NCAA’s toughest arenas and one in which they lost 63-62 last year.

Kenpom.com still considers Michigan State a top-tier team and currently have them ranked No. 7 overall. They excel at keeping the ball moving behind team leader Cassius Winston who is top-25 in assists in the country and the current Big Ten all-time leader in this category. He is also near the top of the conference in points with 18.8 per game. He has been consistently scoring over 20 points besides when they traveled on the road to Purdue where he only scored 10 points in their loss and now 6 points against Wisconsin at home. Additionally, in their loss against Purdue, Winston struggled immensely and was a big factor in why the Spartans were not able to recover. He was responsible for nine of their 18 turnovers.

Michigan State is an overall very well rounded team that will need to rediscover the deep threat in order to succeed against Indiana. Against Purdue, they shot an awful 2-16 from deep which made their climb from the pit Purdue put them in even harder. Winston and sophomore Aaron Henry have been two of the primary deep threats for the team and each convert between 34-37% of their threes; however, they went 1-7 in their loss at Purdue. Against Wisconsin, they improved to 6-16 from deep and had an overall well-rounded approach to their attack.

To make matters more difficult, the Spartans will need to progress through the next few weeks without the guard position help of Kyle Ahrens after losing him to an Achilles injury.

Expect Tom Izzo to address these obstacles and for them to try to not get in a situation they need to climb out of again. Xavier Tillman will work toward taking high-percentage close shots which he excels at to >60% 2PT%. Putting Indiana down early will force the Hoosiers to make shots they are uncomfortable with such as threes and make it exceedingly difficult to recover.

The Spartans are widely considered the top team in the country even though they do not have a perfect conference record any longer. They will need to see strong leadership from Winston and Tillman as conference play continues and for them to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Projected Starting Lineups

Indiana HoosiersMichigan State Spartans
G: #1 Al DurhamG: #5 Cassius Winston
G: #10 Rob PhiniseeF: #23 Xavier Tillman
F: #3 Justin SmithF: #30 Marcus Bingham Jr.
F: #4 Trayce Jackson-DavisF: #11 Aaron Henry
C: #50 Joey BrunkF: #44 Gabe Brown

What to Watch For

1. Early three point shooting for Indiana

For a team that has not been impressive from behind the arc, we would assume that Indiana would avoid shots from behind the arc like the plague. Instead, Indiana seemed to have the full green light to take advantage of openings against Nebraska. The Hoosiers shot a season-high 29 attempts from behind the arc against Nebraska on the road, that’s right after going 2 of 19 in Piscataway earlier in the week.

When Indiana can sink one or two three pointers early in the game, the confidence in the team has a completely different makeup. You’ll see that Rob Phinisee wants to shoot the three to break the seal for the team within the first three to four minutes of the game clock. He’s done that nearly every game since he took on the starting position. Except Indiana to also come out with guns blazing and no limitations from distance.

2. Who will be Indiana’s X-factor?

Indiana has needed players to step up and perform well in order to upset ranked teams this season. Devonte Green did so against Florida State and Rob Phinisee shined against Ohio State and were both essential in the Hoosier’s victory. Neither of these two had an impressive outing against Nebraska either as the Hoosiers had 34 points from the Joey Brunk/Trayce Jackson-Davis combination, who only missed two FGs.

In order for the Hoosiers to pull a third ranked home upset, expect Green, Phinisee, or Justin Smith to lead the team with high scoring play while getting consistent solid play from down-low from TJD and Brunk as they have each done so for most of the season.

3. Revisiting Indiana’s early success with overpowering teams

Archie Miller developed a team that is centered around attacking the rim and creating fouls and free throws early this season, but that identity was lost somewhere along the way until their game against Nebraska. This Hoosier team was annoying to play against and a pleasure to watch as it led to many scoring opportunities for TJD and Brunk and it makes it much more difficult for teams to gain a major lead.

Revisiting this success will be essential as Indiana does not have any great perimeter shooting options apart from a hot day from Green or Phinisee. The three-ball will not be something we will see success with this season, but we have already seen success with attacking the rim and need to continue to do so. Needless to say, converting the free throw attempts will be essential as well.

4. The turning point in the season

Big Ten play is tough. Any team can get extremely beaten up and demoralized after pulling even a few losses in a row and realizing the hole that needs to now be climbed out of in order to salvage their conference record. An example is Ohio State, who many believed to be near the top of the national rankings this season having a four-game conference loss streak before salvaging a loss at home against a struggling Nebraska.

This is the opportunity for Indiana to win and develop into a stronger team for the remainder of the season and regardless of the outcome, they need to continue to push because their is no break when it comes to conference play in the Big Ten. Fortunately, many analysts realize that and rate that favorably.

5. Another B1G upset?

Indiana’s Assembly Hall is one of the most difficult to play in arenas in all of college basketball and Tom Izzo will remember the last time that he traveled to Indiana which did not end well for his team.

However, it is extremely difficult to prepare for any road challenge in Big Ten conference play. Expect the Hoosier faithful to be in full force cheering their team on and for the place to be electric for the Hoosiers in their effort to go to 3-0 at home against ranked teams this season. Even though Michigan State will likely be the better team on paper coming to Bloomington, the road struggles in the Big Ten should not be overlooked.


Featured Photo: Matthew Mitchell Photography

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