Expect to see … Indiana edition
Well, things came full circle. When Michigan State and Indiana opened the Big Ten season on Dec. 28 and the Hoosiers, undefeated at the time, were being hyped up as the favorites to upset Ohio State and take the Big Ten title. The Spartans won that meeting 80-65 and it set them on the path to winning their first four Big Ten games.
Now, it’s the other team that enters with a chance to claim the outright Big Ten Championship.
The fifth-ranked Spartans, already holding at least a share of the title, can clinch it tonight with a win at Indiana.
Expect that to be a big motivation.
1. The return of Keith Appling
Every now and then in the past few games, I have expected to see Appling’s resurgence, but it really has not happened yet. With two Big Ten games before the postseason tournaments start, it better happen soon. His shooting percentage from the field has been steadily declining for about a month.
In the team’s first meetings, Appling had a career-high 25 points. He was 7-for-12 from the field, 9-for-10 from the free-throw line and 2-for-4 from 3-point rage. He also had six rebounds and seven assists. It could have been just a really good night, but it looked to me like it was the Indiana game plan and defense which worked for Appling to have his way.
This could be a game for him to break out, and MSU fans have got to hope he does again.
2. Slow down Christian Watford
The Hoosiers version of Draymond Green (of sorts) had 26 points in the first meeting, hitting four 3-pointers and pulling down ten rebounds. The Spartans effectively neutralized Indiana big man Cody Zeller, and they will likely have decent success doing that again, but people have to step up on Watford (i.e. Green and Branden Dawson).
Allowing him to have such free reign on offense would not bode well for MSU.
3. The road effect
Besides a couple slip ups, the Spartans have performed well on the road this season. The win at Ohio State would be the prime example of the Spartans stepping up away from Breslin Center, as well as at Purdue.
But, none of these road environments come close to Bloomington and Assembly Hall. It will be loud and it will be hostile, and it will make things difficult for the Spartans.
Leadership from Green and Austin Thornton to keep younger guys level and focused will be important, as will hitting early shots and not falling behind.
4. The banner and the seed
Izzo has downplayed the importance of winning a share of the Big Ten title — he wants sole possession and for the Spartans to earn it for themselves.
The banner will be raised to the rafters either way, but being outright champs sounds so much better. The Spartans know it, and so do all the fans. Breaking OSU’s streak of championships makes it even sweeter. It’s not the only chance the Spartans have to seal the conference title outright, but why wait?
More so, a win in this game all but locks up a one seed in the tournament.
That motivation is huge for MSU, Izzo and the seniors who will have been part of three conference championships in their career.
The significance of the Big Ten title is the biggest factor, but the Spartans are rolling — with seven wins in a row and winners of nine of their past ten. Appling REALLY needs to get rolling, and this game should be the best chance to do it.
The Spartans know what is one the line and that is enough to go all out in this one and add another signature win to the Spartans’ tournament resume. Michigan State wins 73-69.