What to Expect: Michigan State
Indiana returns home this weekend for a Saturday afternoon matchup with Michigan State. The Spartans are 12-7 overall and 4-2 in Big Ten play.
The game will be broadcast at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN with Dave Flemming, Dan Dakich and Molly McGrath on the call:
Injuries have already been a major problem this season for Indiana. The situation got worse on Wednesday night at Penn State when the Hoosiers lost OG Anunoby to a knee injury. Anunoby is out indefinitely, which means Indiana is now without one of its most dynamic playmakers on both ends.
Depth was considered a strength of Indiana’s roster in the preseason, but all of the injuries have changed that. Collin Hartman, expected to be the team’s senior leader, hasn’t played all season due to a knee injury. Anunoby missed multiple games earlier in the season with an ankle injury and is now out with the knee injury. Juwan Morgan missed Wednesday’s game at Penn State with a left foot injury. His availability for Saturday remains up in the air.
But the Hoosiers must try to make the best of their situation and what remains on the schedule. Saturday’s game is a chance to climb above .500 in conference play and win a third straight game for the first time since early December.
MEET THE SPARTANS
Given the offseason roster attrition Tom Izzo had to deal with in East Lansing, it shouldn’t come as a total surprise that Michigan State is still figuring things out nearly halfway into conference play.
The Spartans graduated Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello and Bryn Forbes and lost Deyonta Davis early to the NBA. Michigan State is relying heavily on youth as its two leading scorers are freshman.
The headliner is Miles Bridges, a 6-foot-7 forward originally from Flint who was a teammate of Curtis Jones and Thomas Bryant at Huntington Prep in West Virginia. Bridges is Michigan State’s leading scorer at 15.3 points per game. In four Big Ten games, he’s 6-of-12 on 3s and 13-of-20 on 2s. Bridges missed seven games with an ankle injury, but appears to be close to 100 percent now. He is turnover prone, but without Anunoby, could be difficult for Indiana to slow down.
Joining Bridges in the starting frontcourt is Nick Ward, a 6-foot-9 freshman. Ward is first in the Big Ten in block percentage in conference games and ranks in the top ten in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, according to KenPom.com. His free throw rate (FTA/FGA) is a ridiculous 73.8 percent, but putting him on the line isn’t a bad idea if he has a clear path to the basket. Ward is hitting just 55.1 percent of his free throws.
The other froncourt name to know is sophomore Kenny Goins. He’s a low usage offensive player, but is very good on the defensive boards. In just 18.9 minutes per game, Goins is third on the team in rebounding at 4.9 per game.
A defined backcourt and wing rotation is still a work in progress, but it may soon be tightened up. In Big Ten games, the Spartans are regularly playing nine players with two others getting spots minutes.
The starting guards in last weekend’s loss at Ohio State were Eron Harris, Lourawls Nairn and Joshua Langford. Harris is the team’s third leading scorer at 12.1 points per game and is hitting 40 percent of his 3s in Big Ten games. Nairn has been excellent in terms of distributing and taking care of the ball in league play. His assist rate (23.8 percent) is seventh best in the conference and his turnover rate (8.9 percent) is 10th best. Langford, a freshman McDonald’s All-American, is making 44.2 percent of his 3s this season.
Sophomore Matt McQuaid has really struggled with his perimeter shot as he’s just 23-of-70 from deep on the season and 4-of-14 in Big Ten games.
Senior Alvin Ellis is turnover prone, but can knock in the open 3 and is aggressive in looking for his shot.
Cassius Winston played just 11 minutes at Ohio State, but Izzo told Dan Dakich on Wednesday that he’s the “smartest and most savvy” of the team’s freshmen. Winston’s ridiculous assist rate (53.9 percent) currently leads the country. He’s shooting just 30 percent on 3s in Big Ten play.
Michigan State enters as the Big Ten’s best defense as Penn State was knocked out of the top spot in Wednesday’s loss to the Hoosiers.
The keys to this one for Indiana? Taking care of the ball and rebounding. Michigan State is nearly as turnover prone as Indiana. The Hoosiers may also have an advantage on the offensive glass. Michigan State is a really good defensive rebounding team, but Indiana has proven it can generate second chance points against some of the nation’s best.
Both teams are also very foul prone as Indiana ranks 14th in the conference in opponent free throw rate and Michigan State is 13th.
WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO
The KenPom prediction is Indiana by seven, which obviously doesn’t account for the loss of Anunoby and the status of Morgan. Sagarin also likes the Hoosiers by close to seven.
It’s tough to predict how Indiana will adjust to the loss of Anunoby, but it’s also worth noting that just two of Michigan State’s players (Nairn and Ellis) have ever played in Assembly Hall. The crowd should be one of the best of the season and it’s an important game with road trips to Michigan and Northwestern looming next week.
The team that takes care of the ball best and wins the rebounding battle is likely to prevail in a matchup between two of the Big Ten’s most storied programs.
(Photo credit: Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)
Filed to: Michigan State Spartans