Two of the best teams in the country meet in a Big Ten Conference showdown at Assembly Hall on Sunday afternoon, as the seventh-ranked Indiana Hoosiers play host to No. 13 Michigan State.
Since losing to Minnesota in its conference opener on Dec. 31 (76-63), Michigan State has waded through the ultra-competitive Big Ten rather effortlessly with six straight wins to stand alone atop the league standings at 6-1. The Spartans have won 17 of 20 contests overall, logging signature wins against Kansas (67-64) and Ohio State (59-56) along the way, and they most recently recorded an impressive road win over Wisconsin last Tuesday, 49-47.
Indiana came into the season as the nation's top-ranked team, and although it has fallen from the No. 1 spot with a couple of losses to Butler (88-86 in OT) and Wisconsin (64-59), it has still had an outstanding season at 17-2 and 5-1 in conference. Since their latest loss, the Hoosiers have won back-to-back games at Northwestern (67-59), and at home versus Penn State (72-49).
Michigan State had claimed six straight games in the series before Indiana won in Bloomington on Feb. 28, 2012, 70-55. The Hoosiers lead the Spartans all- time, 66-48.
It was far from Michigan State's best offensive performance, the team shooting just 38.3 percent from the field, but it put together an outstanding defensive effort in holding Wisconsin below 30 percent shooting as it held on for the two-point win. Branden Dawson played a huge role in the triumph, tallying 18 points and 13 rebounds, both career-highs. Keith Appling added 19 points, although the rest of the team combined for only a dozen. The Spartans are one of the league's top defensive teams, ranking second with an average yield of 57.8 ppg, and their offensive output (.464 FG percentage, 69.2 ppg) has given them more than enough support. Appling is a difference-maker in the MSU backcourt, logging 14.1 ppg, 4.3 apg and 1.7 spg, while Gary Harris (12.3 ppg) gives the Spartans a productive duo out on the perimeter. Dawson (10.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.1 bpg), Derrick Nix (9.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and Adreian Payne (9.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg) add plenty of depth in close to the basket.
Indiana boasts the nation's second-most potent offensive attack, as it drains 50 percent of its field goal attempts for 83.7 ppg, although that number has dipped to just 66.0 ppg in the last three contests. The Hoosiers didn't play up to their full potential offensively in their latest bout, shooting 20-of-44 from the field and just 21-of-37 from the foul line, but they made up for it by forcing Penn State into more turnovers (18) than field goals (17) in what turned out to be a 23-point victory. Victor Oladipo tallied 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals, while Kevin Ferrell (15 points), Will Sheehey (12 points) and Christian Watford (10 points, nine rebounds) also proved effective in the victory. Anchoring one of the best teams in the nation is one of the best forwards in the nation, as Cody Zeller nets 16.4 ppg on a lofty 61 percent shooting effort, while also producing 8.2 ppg, 1.4 bpg, 1.3 spg, and a .721 free throw percentage (101-140). Oladipo (13.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) is another highly-efficient performer, making a league-best 66 percent of his field goal attempts. Watford (12.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Jordan Hulls (11.2 ppg) and Sheehey (10.5 ppg) give IU incredible scoring depth.