Michigan State Spartans (12-1, 1-0)
Last time out: W, 79-63 at Penn State on Tuesday
In the first half on New Year's Eve, the Spartans trailed nearly the entire half, falling behind by as many as 12 and taking just a brief two-point lead midway through. The Nittany Lions went toe to toe with Michigan State in the first 20 minutes, shooting 46.9 percent from the field, sinking seven 3-pointers and knocking down all 10 of their free throws.
But in the second half, Penn State succumbed to the pressure of hanging around with one of the nation's top squads. The Spartans held Penn State to just 16 points on 5-of-20 shooting from the field and just 2-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Michigan State actually shot worse in the second half, making just 14-of-36 shots from the field, but the team's five 3-pointers helped carry the Spartans to their first Big Ten win of the season.
On the offensive end, Michigan State was powered by four players in double figures – Branden Dawson (20), Keith Appling (14), Gary Harris (13) and Travis Trice (12). Adreian Payne pulled down 10 rebounds to lead the team's attack on the boards that out-rebounded Penn State 45-26.
Record: 27-9 (13-5 in the Big Ten Conference)
The Spartans suffered an early loss in the team's 2012-13 campaign, losing to Connecticut 66-62 on Ramstein Air Base in Germany. It was the team's second-straight season-opening loss after they fell to North Carolina the season before on the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier.
But from there, the Spartans stormed through the rest of their non-conference opponents, losing only to Miami 67-59 in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. They took their 11-2 record and a No. 18 ranking to Minneapolis and fell in their first conference game of the season to Minnesota before winning six in a row.
Michigan State would then fall to Indiana in Bloomington 75-70 Jan. 27 before another five-game conference win streak. The end of the regular season proved tough, though, as the Spartans had to face ranked teams Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan in a row, losing to all three before winning their final conference games against Wisconsin and Northwestern to earn he No. 3 seed in the conference tournament. The Spartans fell to Ohio State in the semi-finals 61-58, but the team earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Once in the tournament, the Spartans breezed through their first two opponents, taking down No. 14-seeded Valparaiso and No. 6-seeded Memphis. The No. 2 seed in the Midwest region, though, proved too tough in the Sweet 16. The Duke Blue Devils took down the Spartans 71-61.
What they do well:
Saturday afternoon, the Hoosiers will finally see a team that plays regularly at the speeds they're used to. The Spartans average scoring 83.3 points per game, slightly above IU's 82 points per game. The Hoosiers will have their hands full with nearly every player Michigan State puts on the court; both Gary Harris and Adreian Payne average more than 17 points per game this season, with Keith Appling (15.8) and Branden Dawson (11.1) not far behind.
Michigan State's strengths also lie in their experience. Although arguably the best player on their roster is a sophomore – guard Gary Harris was the Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year – Appling and Payne are both seniors, and Dawson and Travis Trice are both seasoned juniors. After falling in their first Big Ten game of the season, the Hoosiers will likely feel more comfortable playing at home, but Michigan State's experience playing and winning on the road in the Big Ten give them an additional edge.
The Hoosiers will also have to defend with a very athletic team on the boards. Both the Spartans and the Hoosiers are pulling down more than 40 boards this season. Noah Vonleh is averaging 9.5 per game, but beyond that, IU's next leading rebounder is Troy Williams with 4.8. Vonleh and the rest of IU's bigs will have to contend with 6-foot-6 Branden Dawson (9.3 rebounds per game) and Adreian Payne (8.1) along with athletic guards Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine who pull down 4.6 and 5.2 rebounds per game respectively. If the Hoosiers are struggling shooting the ball in any capacity, look for this to be accentuated with Michigan State's strength on the boards.
G Gary Harris, So.
In two games last season against his home state, Harris scored a combined 40 points on 12-of-26 shooting from the field and 6-of-15 shooting from beyond the arc. You got the feeling last year that he wasn't nervous playing in Bloomington where many thought he might land for his college career after Tom Crean and his coaching staff recruited Harris awfully hard.
Although he's been somewhat limited this season due to a sprained ankle he suffered in the offseason, when Harris is in the lineup, he poses quite a threat as a sophomore and will be more than enough for Yogi Ferrell and company to defend. He's averaging 17.4 points per game this season with 4.6 rebounds and three assists. His shooting percentages aren't quite what they were during his freshman year, but he's taking more of the burden and still hurting defenses plenty.
C Adreian Payne, Sr.
Payne, another member of the Preseason All-Big Ten Team with Harris, will be the most talented man in the front court the Hoosiers have seen thus far and may see all season. In the non-conference portion of the schedule this season, he scored at least 20 points four times with a season-high 33 against Texas on Dec. 21.
The senior center is shooting 53 percent from the floor, 44.4 percent from beyond the arc and 82.5 percent from the free throw line. Noah Vonleh will have to grow up quite a bit in this game to try and contend with Payne's strength in the paint, especially after the team lost Luke Fischer earlier this week due to the freshman transferring. Payne and other Big Ten bigs will likely be playing pretty hard in the paint to try and get Vonleh into foul trouble, leaving just Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Jeff Howard and Jeremy Hollowell left beyond the front lines.