Know Thy Opponent: Michigan State Spartans

  • 01/29/2011 10:03 am in

INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 02: Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans holds up one finger during practice prior to the 2010 Final Four of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 2, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

If you’d been asked, prior to the season, to circle the two or three toughest games on Indiana’s schedule, Sunday’s meeting with Michigan State at the Breslin Center definitely would have made your list, right?

But here we sit, eight games into the Big Ten schedule, and the preseason No. 2 Spartans are absolutely reeling after three straight losses. The latest black eye for the program was Tuesday’s dismissal of junior point guard Korie Lucious for conduct detrimental for the program. Tom Izzo’s club, once considered a lock for the NCAA Tournament, now sits at just 12-8 and is, dare I say it, moving rapidly towards the bubble.

Their most recent loss, 61-57 at home to Michigan on Thursday, prompted this reaction from Tom Izzo: “It’s not a very good situation we’re in. We’re not kidding anybody.”

Indiana comes into East Lansing riding an emotional high following their big win over Illinois at Assembly Hall on Thursday. Jeremiah Rivers said afterward that it’ll be important for the Hoosiers to ride that high right into the Breslin Center. He’s right.

On the other side of the spectrum is Michigan State, a team searching for answers, confidence and most importantly, leadership from Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers. Both guys returned for their senior seasons for another crack at the Final Four. Lucas was asked following the Michigan loss if his team had hit rock bottom. His reaction: “A little bit.” A surprising admission from one of the Big Ten’s best players.

So, can Indiana win in East Lansing for the first time since February 28, 1991? Let’s dive into the numbers.

A quick glance reveals just how average Michigan State has been in Big Ten play to date. That’s not to say they won’t turn it around or make a run, but consider these numbers on offense: an effective field goal percentage of just 48 (last in the conference), 1.04 points per possession (tied for ninth), 68.1 percent from the foul line (last), 33.5 percent from three (ninth).

Defensively, they’ve been slightly better, but are still a far cry from Izzo’s teams from the past. Big Ten opponents are shooting an effective field goal percentage of 50.9 percent (fifth), scoring 1.05 points per possession (fifth) and hitting 39.6 percent from three (fifth).

The key for IU comes down to defense, where the Hoosiers excelled on Thursday against Illinois, but still rank in the lower half of the league in most categories. Big Ten opponents are shooting an effective field goal percentage of 53.6 (eighth), scoring 1.15 points per possession (ninth) and hitting 40.7 percent from three (eighth).

All in all, this is a game that would be absolutely huge for the Hoosiers to steal on the road, especially with home games against Minnesota and Iowa coming up next week.

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