GameDay Preview: 3 Things I Want to See From Indiana Against Michigan State

Tom Brew

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana is perfect at home in the Big Ten so far, but the challenges get ramped up in a big way this week, starting with a huge showdown with Michigan State on Thursday night. 

The Spartans lead the Big Ten and are the conference's highest-ranked team on the national level. For the Hoosiers to keep pace in the Big Ten race, winning at home is imperative, but certainly not easy. Not against the Spartans

"It's critical, especially in our league, to win at home,'' Indiana coach Archie Miller said. "Our league being what it is right now, how difficult it is to go on the road, you have to find a way to win home games. That's not easy as well. It's really not. But we have one of the best home courts in college basketball. 

"Our students make a big, big difference. Our students change the complexion of the energy level in our arena and we're going to need it in every game moving forward, because I think that every game is so valuable. Without question, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, when it's ready and our players are giving them something to be ready about, it's a great place to compete.''

Here are the particulars:

  • Who: Michigan State Spartans (14-4, 6-1 in the Big Ten) vs. Indiana Hoosiers (14-4, 4-3 in Big Ten) 
  • When: 8:30 p.m. ET, Thursday, Jan. 23
  • Where: Simon Skojdt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind. 
  • Latest Line: Michigan State is a 4-point favorite as of Thursday morning, according to VegasInsiders.com. The line opened at minus-3. 
  • Poll rankings: Michigan State is ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press poll and No. 9 in the Coaches poll. Indiana is receiving votes in both polls. They would be ranked No. 41 in the AP poll, and No. 34 in the Coaches poll.
  • Kenpom.com rankings: Indiana is No. 40, moving up one spot after beating Nebraska. Michigan State is No. 7, the highest-ranked Big Ten team. 
  • TV: Fox Sports 1
  • Announcers: Gus Johnson, Bill Raftery
  • Radio: Indiana Radio Network
  • Announcers: Don Fischer, Eric Suhr, Joe Smith

Here are three things I want to see from the Hoosiers Thursday night:

1. Win the battle on the boards

During Tom Izzo's 25 years at Michigan State, the Spartans have always been known for being a great rebounding team. This year is no different, and the Hoosiers need to keep that in check on Thursday night. Michigan State is No. 3 in the country in rebounding margin (10.1 per game). 

The Hoosiers, who beat Michigan State twice last year, have actually outrebounded them in three of the past four games. No one else has done that. And it will take all five guys on the floor to make this happen on Thursday night.

"Michigan State's sustained success has really correlated to the rebounding game. That's part of the game within the game when you play them,'' Miller said. "Maybe by chance here recently we have had some success, but like if you don't rebound, the game is over right away when you play them. 

"You have to understand the rules of the game, and when you play Michigan State, in my opinion, it starts on the glass and then it moves into transition. They're great on the glass, they're great in transition, and if you can't handle those two things, you're going to get beat, and in some ways you're going to get beat pretty good because they're bringing it every single game. That's what they do, that's who they are, and that's why they're successful.''

2. Make the open 3-pointers they'll surely get

Izzo and his staff are great at devising game plans to take away what you do best. So Thursday night, that means there will be added attention on big guys Trayce Jackson-Davis and Joey Brunk.

Izzo loves Jackson-Davis, and recruiting him hard for several years before losing that battle to Miller and the Hoosiers. He knows he can be dangerous, so there will be double-teams. Indiana has to play inside-out, and those open shooters have to knock down those 3-pointers and, for stretches of this game, score points in bunches.

"We have continued to share the ball again a little bit better, and we're seeing the value in the quality of the shot we're getting,'' Miller said. "I think we have some guys now that are doing a much better job of seeing the game in a different way and understanding that when I do this, I've got to be able to deliver the ball where it's got to be delivered. And our front-court players have to continue to do a good job of getting catches, early catches, deep catches, and good things happen when we play inside-out. 

"The quality of the shot and the confidence in the shot that you get sometimes just has to do with the fluidness of guys moving it and moving it when they're supposed to move it.''

It's going to be critical for Rob Phinisee and Al Durham to hit some 3-pointers early, because that will also electrify the Assembly Hall crowd. And, as we always say, we need senior guard Devonte Green to be "Good Devonte'' Thursday night. He needs to come in hot off the bench and hit some shots, too.

3. Keep harassing Cassius Winston for 40 minutes

Cassius Winston is the all-time assists leader in Big Ten history and he's also scoring 18.1 points per game this year. The young man, frankly, is a stud. So you have to harass him with ball pressure all night long and force him into a few bad decisions.

It can happen. When Purdue beat the Spartans by 29 two Sundays ago, Winston had nine turnovers. He had five more Friday in a win against Wisconsin. You have to play hard, and have active hands. 

"They have the premier point guard in college basketball and have a lot of different players now playing in the game. They're deeper than they have been in the past and they have a lot of different guys stepping up and doing a great job within their role.''

Michigan State has had nearly a week to prepare for Indiana, and they're still smarting from that last road beatdown at Purdue. Indiana is going to get Winston's best shot, without any doubt. 

"Right now, them being at the top of the conference isn't surprising,'' Miller said. "But I think they continue to keep getting better and they're a team that has championship aspirations and having some time before they come in here, I'm sure they will be prepared and ready.

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