Two games. That’s all that stands between No. 6 Michigan State and its home rematch with No. 9 Michigan. After the win on Sunday, no one would blame the Spartans for sitting back and looking ahead to that matchup.
However, the next two games are no cakewalk, with the Spartans taking a road trip to Bloomington to face the Indiana Hoosiers. Last time the two teams played, Indiana left the Breslin Center like bandits, stealing a 79-75 overtime victory.
Michigan State and Indiana are a long way from that game, but the Hoosiers proved that they can hang around. If the Spartans look past them and at the Wolverines, Indiana just might have a shot. Here’s the tale of the tape before the two teams take to the court at Assembly Hall.
The Spartans are coming off one of their biggest wins of the season, downing the Wolverines at the Crisler Center nearly a week ago.
The win is so important because Michigan State was able to pull it off without junior forward Nick Ward. With such a depleted roster, not many gave MSU a chance in the game, but it was because of Cassius Winston that the team escaped with a victory.
Winston has been the catalyst for MSU all season, averaging 19.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game in 33.2 minutes. On Sunday, head coach Tom Izzo and company simply put Winston in as many ball screens as they could and let the junior point guard go to work. He responded with a surgical 27 points and eight assists.
What makes Winston so tough is that not only can he score with the best of them, but he makes his teammates better and puts them in spots to succeed.
Without Ward, redshirt senior Kenny Goins and sophomore Xavier Tillman have stepped up in his place. Goins has done everything the Spartans need him to, averaging 7.5 points per game while pulling down 9.1 rebounds. Goins also shoots a solid 34 percent on 3-pointers, making him a threat from beyond the arc.
Tillman has filled his role as well, being one of the more efficient rim-runners on the team. A Winston-Tillman pick and roll has been the bread and butter on offense for MSU. In the two games without Ward, Tilman has averaged 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He even reached his career-high with 19 points against Rutgers.
Everything runs through Winston for MSU, and coming off one of his better performances as a Spartan, it’s expected that he’ll show up again. It’s a tall task, but if the Hoosiers slow him down, it could be a recipe for an upset.
When Indiana came to the Breslin Center and knocked down the Spartans, the formula was to make the game a slugfest and slow Michigan State down. Indiana did just that, limiting what was a prolific MSU fast break to just 14 points while out-rebounding them 48-40. Indiana also benefited from an uncharacteristic night from the free throw line that saw Michigan State go 8-of-22.
While the free-throw shooting might not happen again, limiting the fast break and dominating the glass can still work. The Spartans are without Nick Ward and lack depth in the frontcourt. A Hoosier frontcourt that features double-double machine Juwan Morgan and sophomore Justin Smith could cause problems.
Morgan pulled down 15 rebounds and chipped in nine points in Indiana’s double-overtime win over Wisconsin. If he can be dominant down low and get either Tillman or Goins into foul trouble, it would force Izzo to go with freshman Thomas Kither or even deeper with Marcus Bingham Jr.. Morgan would welcome either matchup, and a dominant frontcourt could be the key for Indiana.
The Hoosiers also have to be happy that freshman sensation Romeo Langford got it going against Wisconsin, even hitting the game-winning layup. Langford finished with 22 points and seven rebounds. He didn’t play well in the last meeting with Michigan State, finishing with just 19 points on 6-of-18 shooting, but the momentum from the last game could set him up for a big performance at home.
With the regular season coming to a close, both teams are looking to finish out strong. Michigan State has its eyes set on the Big Ten regular season trophy, and a loss here could put that in jeopardy. Indiana, on the other hand, is just hoping for some life as it sits near the bottom of the standings and would need to win out in both the regular season and conference tournament to make the Big Dance.
Indiana already has an advantage by getting the win in East Lansing. The Spartans will be confident following Michigan, but Indiana is not a team to overlook as they already know.
Tipoff is scheduled for noon Eastern and will be televised nationally on FOX and broadcast across local airwaves on Impact 88.9 FM.