Date: Sunday, February, 27 – Assembly Hall, Bloomington, IN
Time: 12 Noon (CBS)
GAME NOTES: #10 Michigan State (20-4, 11-2 Big Ten), which defeated Wisconsin, 77-64 on Feb. 24 in East Lansing, enters Assembly Hall looking to continue the recent trend against Indiana. The Spartans have run off three consecutive wins over the Hoosiers, including winning five of the last seven games. The last meeting between the two teams came on Jan. 31, 2004 when the Spartans took an 84-72 victory over IU in East Lansing. Sunday's contest will be the first meeting in Bloomington since Feb. 8, 2003. Michigan State also won that game, taking a 67-62 overtime win.
The Spartans boast four players averaging double figures, led by junior guard Maurice Ager's 13.6 points-per-contest. Junior center Paul Davis leads the team in rebounds (7.3 rpg) while also accounting for 12.1 ppg. Senior forward Alan Anderson (12.8 ppg) and sophomore guard Shannon Brown (11.0 ppg) each average in double figures as well.
There are two interesting notes to point out for those that believe in trends and superstition – Indiana has beaten Michigan State six of the last seven times that the Spartans have been ranked when they came to Bloomington.
Indiana is also approaching a milestone victory this weekend. The Hoosiers have 399 wins at Assembly Hall, and nothing would be finer than to get No. 400 against the top-ten Spartans on Sunday.
Center/Power Forward: Michigan State's Paul Davis (6'11" 255) versus Indiana's D.J. White (6' 9" 230)
Davis has been playing very well lately, currently averaging 12.1 points and 7.3 rebounds on the season. He had one of his best games of the year Thursday night versus the Badgers' Mike Wilkinson, logging 13 points and 11 rebounds. Davis will provide a tough test for the freshman White.
Don't mistake White for being a slouch however. The freshman is the leading candidate for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, averaging 14.3 points and shooting .573 from the floor in Indiana's last eight games and enters the Michigan State game having scored double figures in 16 of his last 18 games.
White is currently 17th in the Big Ten in scoring at (13.4 ppg), eighth in field goal percentage (.559), 13th in free throw percentage (.766) and third in blocks (2.17 per game). White blocked four shots against last Tuesday versus Purdue, marking his fourth four-plus block effort of the season. More impressively, his 53 blocks on the season are a school record for a freshman and are 10th in school history.
Expect Davis and the Spartans to attack White early inside to test his resolve. If the freshman shows any signs of trouble, Davis could make White suffer one of his longest days of the season.
Forward: Michigan State's Alan Anderson (6'6" 220) versus Indiana's Robert Vaden (6'5" 200)
Alan Anderson has been the Spartans' best player over the last two weeks. He was in an absolute zone against Wisconsin Thursday, scoring a career-high 28 points. He was perfect from the floor (10-10) and from the charity stripe (7-7), while playing tough defense against the badger's Alando Tucker; who despite scoring 18 points, only took eight shots because of Anderson's smothering defense.
Vaden is another one of Mike Davis' emerging freshman. He is third on the team in scoring and rebounding (10.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and leads the Hoosiers with 34 steals. Like Davis versus White, expect Anderson to try and teach the young Vaden a thing-or-three Sunday afternoon.
Shooting Guard: Michigan State's Maurice Ager (6'5" 195) versus Indiana's Bracey Wright (6'3" 200)
Junior Mo Ager is having a fine season for Michigan State; leading the team in scoring (13.6 ppg) and tying Chris Hill in 3-point percentage (.402). He struggled a bit offensively early in the game versus Wisconsin, but still ended up in double-digits with 10 points. He and Shannon Brown love to get out and run the lanes on the break. The Hoosiers have a -2.5 rebounding deficiency on the season, compared with the Spartans who are +8.0 in the same category. Ager and Brown could spend a lot of time flying to the hoop if that stat holds true again Sunday.
There is little question that the player who truly stirs the Hoosiers drink is Bracey Wright. A 2004-05 Wooden Award and Naismith Award candidate, Wright ranks second in the Big Ten with 18.5 points per contest this season, to go along with his per-game averages of 4.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
This season, Wright has a penchant for "picking up steam" in the second half. He scored 19 of his game-high 27 points against Purdue in the second half. Despite missing three games with an ankle injury, Wright has six 25-plus point games this season. In those six games, he averages 16.2 points per game in the second half.
Ager will likely get the early job of trying to guard Wright, but as with most of the opposing top guns that the Spartans face each game, he should have plenty of help. Don't be surprised to see Shannon Brown, Tim Bograkos, Kelvin Torbert and Alan Anderson all spend time guarding Wright at some time during Sunday's matchup.
When Bracey Wright was sidelined for three games with an ankle injury, backcourt mate Marshall Strickland emerged as one of the Hoosiers' more steady players. In his last three games, Strickland has averaged 8.3 points on .417 (5-of-12) shooting from three-point range with 15 assists and just seven turnovers. He is also tied with Wright for second place on the team with 23 steals.
Ratliff leads the Hoosiers in 3-point FG percentage, connecting on 21-of-49 (.429) from behind the arc this season. He is also shooting .500 from the field overall this season (45-90), while averaging 6.5 points and 3.1 rebounds. Ratliff is also a solid defender, collecting 16 block and 14 steals on the season.
KEYS TO VICTORY:
INDIANA: Pressure the Guards, Rebound, and Get Back in Transition.
Expect Indiana to pressure the Spartans point guards, Drew Neitzel and Chris Hill, heavily to try to create turnover and negate Michigan State's rebounding. If they can create havoc and get their own transition game going, it will be to their advantage. In the halfcourt, they must rebound and, at if that fails, get back on defense quickly or the Spartans could run the young and largely inexperienced Hoosiers right out of the gym.
MICHIGAN STATE: Stop Bracey Wright, Defend the Perimeter and Rebound.
The Spartans have done a decent job of late in limiting the offensive output of the opposition's best player. They must do so Sunday against Wright. If he gets on a roll, it will keep Indiana in the game and embolden the already hostile Assembly Hall crowd; boosting the confidence of their talented freshmen in the process.
In their last two games, Indiana is 24-of-45 (.533) from the three-point line. This marks the first time since Feb. 7 and 11, 2004 (vs. Iowa and at Penn State) when Indiana has had 10-plus three-pointers in back-to-back games. A.J. Ratliff (7-of-13, .538) and Bracey Wright (6-of-12, .500) have been the Hoosier's top three-point shooters over that span. If Michigan State can defend the outside shot Sunday like they did against Wisconsin last Thursday, they will likely control the defensive glass, which will ignite their formidable fast break.
PREDICTION: If this game were in the Breslin Center, it wouldn't be close. However, it isn't; and Mike Davis' young squad is starting to come together. Couple that with their desperate need for wins to stay in the minds of the NCAA selectors and the always rabid Hoosier faithful in the stands – and this is likely to be the toughest game Michigan State has had in over three weeks.
However, the Spartans are peaking too. With their big victory Thursday against Wisconsin still fresh in their minds; they are just too focused, talented, deep and experienced for the Hoosiers at this point.
FINAL: Michigan State 67, Indiana 58