#4 Spartans to Host #1 Hoosiers
Keith Appling is hoping that Tuesday will be a little different. Last time the Spartans and Hoosiers met up in Bloomington three weeks ago, Appling was practically nonexistent for Tom Izzo, playing less than a full half against the then #7 ranked Indiana Hoosiers. Shooting just 1-4 from the floor, with three points and zero assists, Appling fouled out in the second half as Michigan State fell to Indiana, 75-70.
That was the last time Izzo’s Spartans lost a game, who have won five straight, including a 23-point pummeling of rival Michigan a week ago. Since the loss against Indiana, Appling has been lights out from the floor, averaging 16.5 points in 35 minutes per game. Appling has also been a vocal and emotional leader for the team, who were just ranked #4 in the most recent AP poll.
There’s no denying the importance of Tuesday’s matchup at the Breslin Center as the #1 Hoosiers visit town to take on the #4 Spartans. Both teams are ranked in the top-5 in the country, both teams are tied for first place in the Big Ten Conference with a record of 11-2, both teams are vying for #1 seeds, both teams have lost games that they probably should have won, both teams delivered a handily beat down to their in-state rival, both teams have two of the best student sections in all of basketball, both teams are near perfect at home, both teams are coached by Michigan natives named Tom. The list of comparisons goes on and on.
For Indiana, a win would affirm their spot at the top of the rankings, and would put them at the top of the Big Ten Conference. Michigan State, with a win, could find themselves at the top of the national rankings, would establish themselves as the solo leader of the Big Ten, and will most assuredly improve their ranking in next month’s NCAA tournament.
The Hoosiers, led by National Player of the Year candidates Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo are back up at the nation’s top spot for a second straight week. Oladipo injured his ankle in a weekend victory over Purdue, but is expected to play tomorrow night. Tom Crean’s Hoosiers have won three straight games, and are coming off of a decisive 28-point victory over in-state rival Purdue this weekend. Both the Spartans and the Hoosiers are 11-2 in conference play, with Tuesday’s winner taking a pivotal one-game lead going into the final weeks of the regular season.
A key factor for Tuesday’s game could be the presence of the student section at the Breslin Center, appropriately named the “Izzone”. Head Coach Tom Izzo sent an e-mail to all Izzone members before the Michigan game a week ago, asking them to be loud, be positive, and to show what true Spartan spirit looks like. It’s safe to say that the Izzone members responded. Michigan State fans have played in instrumental role this season in helping the Spartans remain a perfect 15-0 at home, and will need to be as loud as ever if MSU hopes to knock off the #1 team in the land.
Another factor for MSU will be the play of its guards, Appling and freshman Gary Harris. The combination of Appling and Harris has been as good of a guard duo as East Lansing has seen, and together they are averaging nearly 30 points per game. With a team that shoots the ball as well as Indiana, ball possession and decision-making will be paramount, making the point guard role much more important.
What we saw against Michigan, apart from a team that dominated in every facet of the game, was excellence in coaching, reminding us why Tom Izzo and his staff are some of the best in the country at what they do. Whenever Michigan seemed to get a step past one Spartan player, another was there to stop them in their tracks, just like Izzo planned. Against a sharp-shooting Indiana team, Michigan State will need another excellent defensive performance to come away with a victory, but an edge in coaching that could ultimately prove to be the main difference in these two outstanding teams.
If you can’t be at the Breslin Center on Tuesday night, be sure to tune into ESPN at 7pm to watch what has potential to be the best game of college basketball you will see all season.