First place in the Big Ten Conference is on the line, as the top-ranked Indiana Hoosiers battle the fourth-ranked Michigan State Spartans at the Breslin Center on Tuesday night.
Since dropping a heart-breaker at Illinois on Feb. 7 (74-72), Indiana has ripped off three straight wins to improve to 23-3 overall and 11-2 in conference, with its most recent triumph coming in convincing fashion against in-state rival Purdue on Saturday, 83-55. The Hoosiers are no strangers to knocking off top-ranked conference foes on the road, as they recently took down Ohio State in Columbus, 81-68, on Feb. 10.
Michigan State is 22-4 this season and tied atop the league standings with Indiana at 11-2 thanks in large part to its hot play of late, as it has won five in a row and 11 of its last 12. The Spartans went on the road to dismiss Nebraska on Saturday night, 73-64, and now they return home where they've gone a perfect 15-0 this season.
These two squads met on Jan. 27 in Bloomington, with Indiana coming away with a 75-70 win to extend its lead in the all-time series to 67-48. The Hoosiers have now won back-to-back games against Michigan State after the Spartans had claimed the previous six matchups.
Indiana had no issue disposing of Purdue over the week, as it shot 55.6 percent from the field while holding the Boilermakers to a mere 37.5 percent. Will Sheehey was flawless off the bench for IU, shooting 9-of-9 from the field for a game-high 22 points. Cody Zeller tallied 19 points, nine rebounds and two blocks, Christian Watford netted 14 points and came up with three steals, and Jordan Hulls had 11 points and five assists in the triumph. The Hoosiers have grown accustomed to putting up high point totals, as its 82.9 ppg ranks second in the nation, and its scoring defense (61.0 ppg) has also been spectacular. Zeller has established himself as one of the country's top forwards, as he is netting 16.6 ppg on nearly 60 percent shooting from the field to go with 8.2 rpg and more than a block and a steal per contest. Victor Oladipo has also been highly efficient, averaging 13.8 ppg on 63.9 percent from the floor, while Watford (13.2 ppg) is effective both in the paint (6.8 rpg) and out on the perimeter (45-of-91 from 3-point range). Hulls (10.7 ppg) and Sheehey (10.2 ppg) round out an offensive attack that can beat teams in several different ways.
Michigan State suffered a bit of a scare in its recent bout with Nebraska, as it led by just one midway through the second half, but a 12-2 run put the team up by double-digits where it would stay en route to the victory. The Spartans outshot the Cornhuskers from the field (.511 to .355), dominated the rebounding battle (42-24), and shot 23-of-29 from the foul line. Adrien Payne (15 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks) and Derrick Nix (13 points, 11 rebounds) both logged double-doubles, while Keith Appling and Gary Harris netted 16 and 14 points, respectively. The biggest reason for MSU's success this season has been its outstanding defense, which yields just 59.1 ppg on 38.8 percent field goal efficiency. The club's offensive has been solid as well (70.0 ppg). Although the Spartans' top scorers spend a lot of time out on the perimeter, as guards Keith Appling (14.1 ppg) and Gary Harris (12.9 ppg) have put together impressive campaigns, the real strength comes in the frontcourt, as Payne (9.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.2 bpg), Nix (9.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Branden Dawson (10.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 1.8 spg) have all performed well when called upon.