EAST LANSING, Mich. — Like plenty of other conferences throughout the NCAA this season, the Big Ten standings are a hot mess.
Two teams, the Purdue Boilermakers and Ohio State Buckeyes, are a perfect 7-0 in conference play. While many expected Purdue to be in the thick of things, the work that Chris Holtmann has done with Ohio State is stellar in year one. Six teams below them are within four games of the conference lead, but no team is within 2.5 games of the leaders.
The middle of the conference is a log jam, and two teams will go head-to-head on Friday night to try and gain a bit of separation from the pack. In East Lansing, the Michigan State Spartans and Indiana Hoosiers will square off in a battle of two teams trending in opposite directions.
Just over a week ago, the Spartans were the top-ranked team in the country. Now, after two losses over their last three games, Michigan State comes in ranked ninth in the country. On the flip side, the Hoosiers suffered two losses to in-state opponents on their home floor in non-conference play, but are riding a three game winning streak into the Breslin Center.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of the first of two regular season meetings between Michigan State and Indiana.
Last Time Out
Indiana posted a record of just 7-5 in non-conference play, with losses to both the Fort Wayne Mastodons and Indiana State Sycamores. Since the New Year came around, the Hoosiers have looked like a different team in Big Ten play. Following a loss to the Wisconsin Badgers, the Hoosiers rattled off back-to-back wins, and looked to extend that to three in their last outing against the Northwestern Wilidcats. Thanks to strong defense, the Hoosiers rolled past the Wildcats by 20, 66-46.
The win moved Indiana to 4-2 in Big Ten play.
Guard Robert Johnson recorded 17 points to lead all scorers on the day, while also pulling down six rebounds. Josh Newkirk added 12 points of his own, while Justin Smith and Juwan Morgan chipped in with eight points apiece. The Hoosiers didn’t allow a single player on Northwestern to score more than nine points in the win.
While the Hoosiers are trending in the right direction after a slow start to the season, the Spartans find themselves going in the opposite direction after a strong start to the season. Following less-than-ideal performances against both the Ohio State Buckeyes (loss) and Rutgers Scarlet Knights (OT win), the Spartans took on the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Despite a three-point lead at half, the Spartans fell apart in the second frame, and the Wolverines took the 82-72 win.
It was the second loss in three games for the Spartans, who had won 14 straight games before their loss to the Buckeyes.
The pair of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. had 19 points apiece to lead the Spartans. Jackson added six blocks, while Bridges added six rebounds and three assists in the loss. Nick Ward was limited to just four points and five rebounds in 14 minutes of action due to foul trouble.
During the 2016-17 season, the Hoosiers and Spartans met just once, inside Assembly Hall on January 21st, 2017. Behind big performances from their stars, the Hoosiers held down home court and picked up the 82-75 victory over Michigan State.
James Blackmon Jr. scored a game-high 33 points to pace Indiana, while going 11-of-16 from the floor. Blackmon also pulled down four rebounds. Thomas Bryant went for 11 points and six rebounds, while Robert Johnson had 17 points of his own in the victory.
For the Spartans, it was senior guard Eron Harris who led the way, scoring a team-high 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Nick Ward had 15 points, while Miles Bridges finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds for the double-double.
Players to Watch
– 15.6 ppg (team high), 7.4 rpg (team high), 1.4 bpg; 59.3% FG in 18 games
– Morgan has shot 50% or better from the floor in each of his last five outings.
– Six double-doubles in 2017-18 (went for 34 points, 11 rebounds v. Notre Dame)
– 13.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.7 apg; 42.2% FG, 79.6% FT in 18 games
– Johnson has 14 games with double digit points (28 pts, 7 reb, 7 ast v. Minnesota)
– One of five seniors on the roster in Archie Miller’s first season as head coach
– 12.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 6.9 apg (team high); 53.6% FG, 52.4% 3PT in 19 games
– Winston has five or more assists in 15 games; two double-doubles with points, assists
– Has shot below 50% in each of the Spartans’ last three games (1-2 record)
– 16.7 ppg (team high), 7.4 rpg, 3.2 apg; 45.9% FG, 87.8% FT in 18 games
– Bridges recorded 19 points and 21 rebounds vs. Savannah State Tigers on New Year’s Eve.
– Has double-digit points in 14 straight games (17 of 18 overall).
Simply put: Friday night is a must-win game for Michigan State.
The Spartans are trending in the wrong direction, and need a win to get back on the right track and stay in contention for the regular season title in the Big Ten. They need to limit their turnovers, which have hurt them all season long. Look for the Green and White to come out with a sense of urgency and a high level of intensity from the gate.
Friday could very signal the end of the winning streak for the Hoosiers. They will look to force Michigan State into ill-advised passing situations on defense, and get out in transition and put up points. They have the pieces to keep the Spartans at bay, and are playing with a high level of confidence after three straight wins.
Michigan State needs the win to reassert themselves as the team to beat in the Big Ten. That’s bad news for the Hoosiers, as the Spartans will do whatever it takes to win. Look for Michigan State to pick up a much-needed win to kick off the weekend.
Michigan State – 80
Indiana – 65
– T. Bennett