When Indiana and Michigan State last met on Groundhog Day, the Spartans had a week to mull over a bad loss to Purdue and prepare for Indiana.
The Hoosiers outplayed the Spartans and stunned MSU 79-75 in overtime at The Breslin Center.
Michigan State has had nearly four weeks to stew over that loss to IU, and they’ve since regained their footing despite notable injuries. The Spartans are currently riding a five game winning streak.
The Hoosiers and Spartans are set to meet again, and this time around MSU is coming off a great win in Ann Arbor over Michigan — and now they have another full week to prepare for Indiana.
That’s a lot of time over the last month to be thinking about Indiana. And Spartan head coach Tom Izzo has come to the same conclusion as a lot of Indiana fans.
“In Indiana, it’s the strangest team,” Izzo said. “They’re 4-12 heading into tonight’s game against Wisconsin, but they’ve had so many two, three, four point losses and their losses have been single digits, twice to Iowa, to Purdue and to Ohio State. Purdue they had beat.”
No doubt framed in the context of all those losses coming after a surprising win in East Lansing against his Spartans, Izzo is as confounded as the rest of us. He has concluded that poor effort by Michigan State led to that early February loss to the Hoosiers.
The 24 year head coach noted two key ways that Indiana outplayed his team —
“When they beat us here they shot 50% from the three and they’ve I think been shooting in the lows 30s, it was in the 20s when they came in here, so that was disappointing on us,” Izzo said.
“They outrebounded us, had 20 offensive rebounds. That was disappointing.”
“When you give up 20 offensive rebounds, you got outplayed. When a team hits 50% from the three that usually shooting a lot lower, that means that you got outplayed.”
It wasn’t all Indiana’s effort that took down the Spartans in that stunning upset. MSU did something that night that looked familiar to Hoosier fans, struggling mightily from the free throw line.
Izzo’s recollection of the extent of the self-inflicted damage was a bit inflated —
“And I think we missed, probably exaggerating a little, 70 free throws, 65 but it seemed like 100, it was ridiculous the number of free throws we missed, the number of front end free throws we missed, and yet they outplayed us,” Izzo said.
Truth be told, Michigan State missed 14 from the stripe that night, knocking down just 8 of 22 freebies. But in an overtime game, those missed opportunities were no doubt a major part of the story.
Another challenge in that game for Izzo and his Spartans was the return of both De’Ron Davis and Devonte Green. Davis hadn’t played significant minutes in a month after suffering an ankle injury, while Green was fresh off of suspension.
Going into the first game, it seemed unlikely that Davis would play at all, as Archie Miller had suggested the day before the game that his junior forward was only about ready to start jumping into practice. Izzo had no indication that Davis or Green would play a big role — and they both did.
Davis went for 12 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in his most extensive action of the season after Juwan Morgan left the game with an injury. Green added 11 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists as the junior duo helped lead IU to the upset win.
Of course Izzo won’t be surprised by Davis and Green this time around, but he has noticed that the Hoosier lineup continues to be fluid —
“They’ve changed their lineup a little bit,” Izzo said. “Two kids that hadn’t played, especially the big kid Davis hadn’t played in a long time before they played us. He played very well. It was Smith who had a career night against us, and now he’s not starting. Green and Davis, they tore us up.”
Now Izzo will need to concern himself with new names like Race Thompson, and a much healthier and active Rob Phinisee, who was still not himself in the first contest after suffering a concussion.
As the Spartan head coach noted, Smith is now playing as a reserve as Indiana has rounded into their healthiest form of the season.
Meanwhile, it is the Spartans who are dealing with the injury bug. Izzo indicated on Tuesday that his “whole concern now is a little bit about our health,” and it might be Miller who is left guessing a bit on the rotation that he will face come Saturday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Michigan State (23-5, 14-3) has done an impressive job navigating key injuries so far this season.
First it was third leading scorer Joshua Langford (15 ppg) that was lost for the season with a foot injury.
Key reserve Kyle Ahrens (5.4 ppg) has had a season not unlike Zach McRoberts, contending with a frustrating back injury that has hindered his play. He is on a day-to-day basis right now and will likely at least give it a go in Bloomington.
The latest blow was a big one as junior forward Nick Ward suffered a hairline fracture of his left hand. Ward (15.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) is not expected to play on Saturday but is hopeful to return at some point this season or postseason.
The Spartans have won their first two games without Ward, including that win at Michigan.
The injuries have left MSU lean on its bench, which so far has meant that the Spartans’ starters are getting more minutes.
New starter Xavier Tillman has seen his role expanded significantly, and he has done well thus far averaging 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in the last two games.
Indianapolis native Aaron Henry is also seeing extensive action and could draw or share the Romeo Langford assignment in his return to his home state.
(Note: You can watch the full Izzo press conference via SpartanNation here.)
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