It’s round three of the Michigan State Spartans’ 2013 hoops gauntlet, and this next contest is a doozy. Following a big win on the road in Wisconsin (stunningly their second in a row) the Spartans now must make the trip south to Bloomington to tangle with the Indiana Hoosiers in a battle for the top of the Big Ten.
Last season, Michigan State was dominated at Assembly Hall. They’ll have a chance for redemption Sunday, as they attempt to fire another salvo to a close competitor in the race for first place. Surviving a second straight rabid environment is a tall task. Spartan Jump Shots breaks down a third tough contest in a row, and explains what the Spartans must do to reach 7-1.
Michigan State’s Key To Victory: Get nasty inside.
Last season, Michigan State was 1-1 against Indiana. Both games couldn’t have looked more different, as the Spartans dominated one and completely folded in the other. The reason? In the first match up in East Lansing, Michigan State pounded the paint with anger, as Derrick Nix and Aderian Payne combined to score 22 points, pull down seven boards and four huge offensive rebounds. In the second game, that effort wasn’t there, as Nix and Payne scored only seven points with six rebounds. Moreover, Cody Zeller was intimidated in the first game but elevated his game by February’s meeting. Michigan State must challenge Zeller physically again. Whoever wins this battle will win the paint. With the amount of big bodies lurking on both sides, that’s a virtual certainty.
Indiana’s Key To Victory: More hot shooting.
During their Bloomington blowout last season, Indiana shot 47 percent from the floor, getting plenty of close looks in the middle and draining their open looks. Even in losing to the Spartans, Indiana shot a respectable 42 percent. This year, the Hoosiers are one of the most efficient teams in the country, making 50 percent of their shots. If those numbers stay close, Michigan State will have to play a perfect defensive game on the road to beat Indiana, and frankly, perfection doesn’t exist in this league. If Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Zeller all knock down their open shots, the Hoosiers will come close to scoring their average of 84 points.
The X-Factors: Branden Dawson and Jordan Hulls
Dawson only scored seven points against the Hoosiers last year and coming off his big performance against Wisconsin (18 points, 13 rebounds) it’s clear his game is evolving more by the day. In his home state, Dawson could be inspired to put forth another big effort against the Hoosiers, which would help the Spartans diversify their offensive attack and might be enough to put them over the top. Keith Appling scored 25 against Indiana last season in a win, so a motivated Dawson will have something to shoot for.
When the Hoosiers are winning big, Hulls is usually the one doing the sneaky bit of critical damage to the opposition, especially from three point land. In a loss to Wisconsin, however, Hulls only scored four points, missed six shots and didn’t make a three. That demonstrates his overall importance to the Hoosiers’ team. If he’s able to get into double figures against the Spartans, Indiana will likely win the game.
Most Important “State” Stat Of The Game: 14, the number of assists Michigan State enjoyed in their big home win over Indiana last year. This season, the Spartans average that same amount a game. When they’re winning, they’re usually sharing the ball and finding excellent looks. Conversely, Indiana averages 16 assists per game. Whoever shares the best will be doing a good job of spacing and going low to high. That will be enough to put either side over the top, given passing generally leads to good open shots.
Intangibles: Streaking Spartans.
Since opening the season with a tough loss at Minnesota, the Spartans look like a changed team. They’ve won six games in a row, including three in particularly tough road conditions. How might that work to their advantage in Bloomington? Michigan State won’t be intimidated easy, being they’ve been playing away from home recently and are one of the hottest teams in the country. They might even have just a bit of swagger entering Assembly Hall this time around. As far as mindsets go, that could prove to be an important advantage playing a tough team on the road.
Prediction: I’ll admit, I wasn’t a believer in Michigan State’s ability to win a big road game against Wisconsin. By gritting out an ugly game, they proved me and plenty of other doubters wrong. Give them credit for playing some of their best lock down defense of the year. This Indiana test five days later is a bit too steep, though. The Hoosiers will have the frenzied home crowd and all their weapons firing at full strength. The Spartans are more game than they were in February 2012, but fall nonetheless.
Indiana 75, Michigan State 68
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax