What to Expect: Michigan State

  • 01/04/2015 11:59 am in

Indiana hits the road again for its second Big Ten game on Monday evening as the Hoosiers will be in East Lansing to take on Michigan State. The Spartans lost their conference opener at home, 68-66 in double overtime to Maryland, and are 9-5.

The game will be broadcast on BTN at 7 p.m. ET with Kevin Kugler and Seth Davis on the call:

It’s a retooling year at Michigan State for Tom Izzo. The Spartans reached the Elite Eight last season, but injuries derailed a season that opened with the Spartans ranked No. 2 in both the coaches and Associated Press polls. The offseason brought roster turnover as Adriean Payne and Keith Appling graduated, Gary Harris left early for the NBA, Kenny Kaminski was dismissed and both Alex Gauna and Russell Byrd left the program.

Despite the losses, the Spartans still return a solid core of experience, led by junior Denzel Valentine and seniors Branden Dawson and Travis Trice. The program also added Cleveland State transfer Bryn Forbes, who was granted immediate eligibility, and a three-man recruiting class.

The personnel transition, however, hasn’t been particularly smooth thus far as the Spartans are 0-4 against teams in the top 50 of Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. Michigan State also lost at home last month in overtime to Texas Southern, which is 4-10. Even with the early setbacks, counting out an Izzo coached team would be unwise. The computers still love the Spartans: They are ranked No. 22 in Pomeroy as of Sunday and that model projects a 11-7 Big Ten finish. Coming off a narrow loss to Maryland, Michigan State will be desperate for a win to avoid a 0-2 start in the league with a trip to Iowa City looming.


Even with a significant amount of turnover, Izzo is still putting plenty of experience on the floor. The Spartans start two seniors and a trio of juniors. Two sophomores and three freshmen round out the rotation off the bench.

Branden Dawson, a native of Gary, came to East Lansing as a McDonald’s All-American and while there was some speculation that Dawson might test the NBA waters, he ultimately decided to return for his senior season. A preseason first team All-America selection by The Sporting News, Dawson has missed three games already with injuries and isn’t off to a particularly efficient start. His field goal percentage (47.3) and free throw percentage (39.3) are both as low as they’ve ever been in his career. However, he’s still one of the elite rebounders in the conference, which makes him a key matchup for an IU team that has been vulnerable in that area.

Valentine, Forbes and Trice form a three-man backcourt that can really shoot it from distance. Valentine is hitting 46.9 percent of his 3s and Forbes isn’t far behind at 44.9 percent. Trice is streaky on 3s (36.9), but is fully capable of knocking down five in a game from distance, something he’s already done twice this season. All three are averaging in double figures with Trice the team leader at 13.9 points per game. Trice has also morphed into a very good distributor (34.1 assist rate, 5.9 per game) and is taking care of the ball better than any other player on the roster (12.9 percent turnover rate).

The five position is essentially a platoon with junior Matt Costello as the starter and sophomore Gavin Schilling as the backup. Costello is the better rebounder of the two (top 75 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage) and both are shooting 65 percent or better on 2s.

The other four Spartans who will likely see time on Monday are a mixed bag in terms of production. Freshman Marvin Clark, a former IU recruiting target, is making close to 41 percent of his 3s and is sixth on the team in scoring (7.3 ppg) despite playing just under 14 minutes per contest. His high school teammate, freshman point guard Lourawls Nairn, who was also recruited by Indiana, is a pure distributor (25.8 assist rate) who really struggles to score (18.5 field goal percentage).

Freshman forward Javon Bess missed the team’s first 10 games due to injury, but Izzo said on Saturday that he could see increased time against the Hoosiers. Sophomore guard Alvin Ellis III played a season-high 22 minutes against Maryland, but is just 5-of-18 from the field this season.



Michigan State should give a much better indication of whether Indiana has improved defensively in recent weeks as the Spartans rank in the top 50 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency despite scoring just .80 points per possession against Maryland.

The Spartans present quite the challenge, particularly from outside the 3-point arc and in the paint. Here’s their shot chart for the season to date, via Shot Analytics:


The 3-point success is shaded toward the right side, particularly for Trice and Valentine. Trice is 45 percent on right wing 3s while Valentine is 53 percent on right wing 3s and 69 percent on right corner 3s. Forbes is a tough cover from three different spots: left corner 3 (52 percent), left wing 3 (45 percent) and right wing 3 (47 percent).

This isn’t a vintage Michigan State team that dominates the glass, so Indiana must hold its own there and also look to get to the free throw line. The Spartans aren’t getting to the line much at all (301st nationally) and are making just 63.7 of their attempts from the stripe, so if Indiana can get there and shoot near its season average, it should be an advantage for the Hoosiers.

Like Indiana, Michigan State isn’t turning teams over much, so this one could ultimately come down to which team takes care of the ball better in the halfcourt. Indiana’s turnover percentage (17.3) is a big reason for its offensive turnaround this season, but the Georgetown (21.8 TO%) loss showed just how costly a few wasted possessions can be to the outcome of a game.


The “Izzone” won’t be at full strength due to winter break, but the Breslin Center is still one of the best atmospheres in college basketball. A young Indiana team should have some confidence going into a hostile environment after pulling out a win at Nebraska, but Michigan State will be desperate for a win to avoid a 0-2 conference start.

Pomeroy likes Michigan State fairly comfortably with a predicted seven-point margin and just a 24 percent chance for an IU win. Sagarin likes the Spartans, too, but by just five.

This game could be a crossroads of sorts for Michigan State as digging out of a 0-2 start at home in league play is a tough ask for any team. And for Indiana, a 2-0 start on the road in Big Ten play would be a huge confidence boost for a team that didn’t play a true road game in the non-conference.

(Photo credit: Leon Halip/Getty Images)

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  • ForeverIU

    Dunk you very much (I stole this from someone’s Twitter, lol). Hanner is tenacious. Yes I’d like to see the Harrell in him, minus throwing punches!

  • ForeverIU

    Hanner seems full of fire to me, but he just needs to perfect some of his techniques. I think Harrell had the opportunity to do this last year?

  • david r

    Whichever team plays the best 3 pt defense will win IMO. And of course, you gotta shoot well. I smell an upset..And it smells gooooooooooood!

  • PBzeer

    If Troy can get to the rim, 2 of our shooters have good nights, and we keep down the TO’s, then I think we can win this one. I don’t think HMP gets the same looks this game as last, but I think he can help open up some good looks for everyone else, simply by being a threat (thanks to his performance at NE). Hanner doesn’t need to be a beast inside, just execute when he has an opportunity. That keeps the defense honest and more easily exploited.

    In the end though, I think it will be defense that decides this game. If we can start strong on defense, then I think we can keep the game at our tempo, and if our shots are falling at all, we should be able to build up a decent cushion.

  • I like your scenario.. I do think/hope we get the ‘W’.. I would prefer we pull away early.. it would be so much easier on my nerves. Kinda don’t think that’s going to be the case.. I’ll settle for a win under any circumstances.. Wouldn’t it be just terrific if we won something like 82 – 72 ? Gosh I’d probably think I’d died and went to Heaven…lol..

  • I’ll take some of your $$.. what are you willing to bet? Put your money where your mouth is. I can guarantee, he ain’t goin’ off for 22.. You can take that to the bank…

  • He is not as impressively quick as Yogi.. and as I pointed out, I think he’s smaller. He may only be 5′ 9″.. Don’t they list him at 5′ 10″? I’m sure they’re stretching him at least an inch ay that. And if he’s less than 5′ 10″, he is in rarified air when it comes to real success in the college game, much less the NBA. I mean we’re talking like ‘Spud’ Webb type of ‘rarified’ air..

  • Ole Man

    Don’t know what you smell, but you’re right about the defense. LOL!

  • CreamandCrimson

    We’ve won once in the past 24 years in the Breslin Center (two years ago was our lone victory)…it’s been a “House of Horrors”, no doubt about that.

    Michigan State is statistically better on offense than I thought. I’ve watched them play four games and they certainly don’t look like a top 50 offensive team to me. I agree with the “a loss doesn’t mean a lot” line of thinking and it’s another reason that winning in Nebraska was so important. The feeling prior to this 2-game road trip was nearly unanimous, “we need a split, anything above that is gravy”…we’ve got a chance to steal one and that would be huge but a loss doesn’t spell doom.

  • CreamandCrimson

    That Nebraska game seems like a long, long time ago…I’m glad there’s IU basketball to thrill/stress and captivate me tonight. Anyway, before this 2-game road trip, the general consensus was that we “had to get a split”. Winning in Lincoln did that and it removes the “must get a win” feeling that we would have if we were 0-1. The pressure’s on MSU and they are expected to knock us off. That doesn’t mean we can’t get a win and propel ourselves into some level of national consciousness.

    I’ve watched Michigan State play 4 games this season and they don’t look like a top 50 offensive team to me. However, the stats say they are. They’ve lost to each of the high-quality opponents they’ve played but they were competitive in each of those losses (and should have beaten Maryland if not for really head-scratching decisions late in regulation). No one really knows where they fit in this year’s B1G but it’s understandable why many are giving them the benefit of the doubt. We all know how hard it will be to win in the Breslin Center against a desperate MSU squad, here’s to hoping our Hoosiers can steal road win #2.

    My keys = Branden Dawson isn’t playing particularly well, does tonight turn into a “get right” game for him? Can we keep MSU from lighting us up on the perimeter (they have multiple guys who “could” have big nights from 3) and if they miss, can we continue to do a good enough job on the defensive glass?

    There are a lot of reasons that a road win in a very tough, but winnable, game would be huge. How many road wins would be reasonably expected to get us to 11-7 (and in my mind, 11-7 gets us a guaranteed NCAA bid)? I’d say 5 (I definitely see us going at least 6-3 at home, I expect better but 6-3 at home is the floor)…we have road games against Northwestern and Rutgers on the schedule and I’d think we should win those. If we beat MSU on the road, we’d need one of the Illinois, OSU, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland road games to get to 5-4 on the road. Winning tonight puts us way ahead of where I thought we’d be and that’s really nice to think about. Go Hoosiers.

  • Bradford

    Hey MillaRed,

    I’ve been thoroughly reading the comments on ITH for quite some time, and from that I’m pretty sure that you’re a Madison guy (I’m really hoping that’s not too creepy). Anyways, I was curious if you knew of any bars in town that had a regular IU crowd. My friends and I usually watch at home, but were looking to get out for the game tonight.

    Any other Madison folks out there with suggestions?

  • MillaRed

    Not creepy at all. You live in Madison or visiting? Not sure what your situation is. There are not any Hoosier hangouts that’s for sure. But if there are a few interested I would be glad to get people together. Tonight doesn’t work though.

    I will be at the Wiscy-Hoosier game here in Madison. If there is enough interest I would be glad to do a pre-game beer.

    However, If anyone tries to shoot me I am holding you personally responsible.

  • ForeverIU

    I saw some pics of our players shooting around at Breslin (from last night), and Emmitt appeared without any knee protection. Phew!

  • ForeverIU

    Thanks for sharing, as usual. Freshman Javon Bess I think will play his first game for MSU this season (injury). Let’s hope he doesn’t make a name for himself at our expense.

  • CreamandCrimson

    I know that Bess is considered to be a pretty talented player and that Tom Izzo thinks he’s ready for “significant minutes”, just one more thing to watch tonight.

    That being said, it’s not his first game of the season. He’s played in 4 games, averaged 11.5 minutes a game/scored 3 ppg/5 rpg/but shot just 37.5% from the field.


    That, and I’d have to say that there is some respect for Izzo and the small number of times that MSU has started the B1G 0-2 at home.


    My, non high level Div 1 coaching expertise, would be to use multiple defenders on him so that he has to earn a high percentage of his points from the foul line where he, up to this point, is a very poor shooter. And when I say make him earn them at the line I don’t mean go there for a chance at an 1 either, get your money’s worth if you and when you foul him guys. Nothing dirty or dangerous, but in a way that makes him earn it at the foul line.

  • VAHoosier

    What’s this? Optimism again from Mr. Spera? I thought you had given up that shtick…


    Just one of his many, ” I’m giving birth without the benefit of any painkillers “, looks. lol


    Harrell had the benefit of perfecting his game all through junior high and high school, while Hanner was playing soccer during much of that time. If we went strictly by number of years playing high level, organized bball, Hanner would still be in high school.

  • VAHoosier

    I agree. When you just look at the cold numbers, MSU stacks up very well against us. This will be a tough one and we’ll be lucky to get a W.

  • VAHoosier

    Not so. We are a (dare I say it) finesse team. Which is to say, it is advantageous for us when the game is called tight and our guards get to the line. When the refs let teams play very physically, we have an uphill battle (see Louisville game, where the refs swallowed their whistles).

    In general, bigger teams benefit more from physical play. We are neither big nor physical.

  • HoosierCruz

    WOW TumTum can’t shoot worth a damn

  • nice bit of info there, thanks for sharing

  • RU4IU2

    I watch EVERY IU game possible. In the Nebraska game, do you really think it was possible that Petteway, Rivers and Shields misfired from point-blank distance probably 6-7 times w/o being fouled-yet nothing was called???
    B1G refs historically let ’em play w/much more physicality than other conferences. This becomes a significant factor in how poorly B1G teams do in the dance when games are usually called tighter. Remember I said “provided the stripes are consistent at BOTH ends of the court”…I don’t feel that the refs call 1 end tight and the other loose, but I do think they tend to protect guards by calling fluff fouls and let the bigs bang. That’s why in the first 5 min of a game, both the players and coaches will get a pretty good feel for how the whistles will or won’t be blown.

  • dssnyder1

    MSU should always be taken seriously, regardless of their current record. of all the coaches in the Big Ten, Izzo is probably the one that gets the most respect from me, it’s tough to find faults with his program and his players.
    I believe they have won 8 of 9 vs IU and are
    19 -1 against the Hoosiers at Breslin. I’m hoping for an unexpected road win!

  • Bradford

    I live in Madison (though moving away in the next couple months). A bunch of my family, mostly Indiana natives, usually tries to get to the Wisconsin-Indiana game when it’s in town and if that ends up working out then a pre-game beer would be cool.

  • MillaRed

    OK I will try to reach out to you when it gets closer.

  • SilentBob

    1) I was just saying he missed out on chances to add to those stats against inferior teams

    2) Correct I’m taking their platoon production per forty minutes. To be that would be a more accurate comparison as neither is really getting starters minutes. I mean if a player comes in and plays 3 minutes and gets 3 assists then if you do a per 40 analysis then he is getting 40 assists. Extreme, but I’m just saying.

  • Max

    I don’t think FIRE is the difference – I believe it’s confidence. Harrell knows he’s one of the best players in college hoops. If Hanner keeps improving, maybe next year he’ll come out with the same mean streak too.