Tuesday night in East Lansing, the polls have decided history will be in the making. The Indiana Hoosiers make their first trip to Michigan ranked as the number one team in the land. Not far behind them, the Michigan State Spartans will enter the ring ranked fourth.
It’s the first time the Breslin Center has seen a top five match up in the building’s existence. A month ago, Michigan State played the Hoosiers tough in Bloomington before fading late. Now, with a Big Ten title on the line, the Spartans will want to hold serve at home. If they’re able to, an inside track to a league championship could be well within reach. Spartan Jump Shots has the ins and outs of another premiere hoops match up in 2013.
Michigan State’s Key To Victory: Pester Cody Zeller down low.
In January’s match up, Michigan State did this well, with plenty of double teams and hands down low. Last year, Zeller didn’t play well at all in East Lansing, leading to Indiana’s tough night. Once again, this game will probably be won in the paint. If Zeller struggles and the Spartans force him into having a tough shooting night, the Hoosiers will be in trouble. The Spartans need a confident effort out of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne, both of which played well in Bloomington.
Indiana’s Key To Victory: Win the guard battle.
Gary Harris didn’t disappoint scoring 21 points against the Hoosiers, but Keith Appling was a no-show thanks to early foul trouble. He only scored three points and rarely figured in the game. You’d have to expect Appling to make a much bigger impact this time around, given he’s been playing excellent lately and is returning home. Indiana needs Victor Oladipo to come to play on the road, while getting big contributions from Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell. Each scored in double figures in January’s meeting, beating out their Spartan counterparts handily. That was the key to a narrow victory. If it happens again, Indiana will have put a major leg up towards winning.
The X-Factor: Victor Oladipo
The speedy guard is dealing with an ankle injury, but is still expected to play against the Spartans. In the last meeting between the teams, Oladipo scored 21 points and won his closely contested guard battle with Appling. This time around, will Oladipo go off on the road in a hostile environment? In a tough road game against Illinois, Oladipo only scored nine points and the Hoosiers lost. Against Ohio State, Oladipo scored 26 and Indiana won big. That comparison shows exactly why he’s the x-factor for this match up. If Oladipo is creative and healthy, Indiana will be in good shape.
Most Important “State” Stat Of The Game: 18, the number of turnovers Michigan State had at Assembly Hall, leading to a loss. Most of these led to easy fast break points for Indiana. Michigan State still must improve upon turnovers, considering they tossed the ball away 13 times against Nebraska. Tossing the ball away is almost like giving away automatic points to a team as good as Indiana. The Spartans must do whatever they can to limit the amount of Hoosier possessions and operate efficiently on offense. Last Tuesday night’s win against Michigan provides the perfect offensive blueprint.
Intangibles: The atmosphere.
Perhaps it was simply the fact that hated Wolverines were coming to town, but a week ago, the Breslin Center crowd set the bar high for crowd intimidation. They were a factor from the get-go, getting in the heads of Michigan players and making the environment nearly impossible for the road team to win in. Against Indiana in a highly anticipated heavyweight match up, how charged up might they be? The Spartans are undefeated in front of their home crowd this year and Indiana hasn’t won in East Lansing since the early 1990s, meaning the effort by the Hoosiers might need to be a particularly strong one in order to survive.
Prediction: If you looked up the term “heavyweight fight” in the dictionary, any scrum involving Muhammad Ali would show up. A close second, you’d probably see a battle between Tom Crean and Tom Izzo listed. Two friends with similar mindsets, closely contested physical battles are always expected when Michigan State and Indiana meet. This time around, the Spartans get some big revenge at home at the perfect time. The Hoosiers are good, but they aren’t ready to win on the road in heated East Lansing. Appling has a much better game this time around while getting help from Harris and Branden Dawson. Nix and Payne frustrate Zeller down low, and Michigan State is able to win going away.
Michigan State 73, Indiana 67
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax