Big Ten basketball is here and the two top-ranked teams in the conference meet Wednesday night to start it all up.
No. 13 Indiana (12-0) comes to East Lansing to face No. 16 Michigan State (11-2) in the opener for both teams.
The Hoosiers are one of six remaining undefeated teams in the nation, while the Spartans ride in on an 11-game winning streak since dropping their first two to North Carolina and Duke.
Here are the keys to this matchup:
— Stop Zeller. Indiana averages 85 points per game and boasts five starters averaging double-digit points per game, led by dynamic freshman Cody Zeller with 15.1. Zeller, a 6-foot-11 center, has arguably been the league’s top freshman to date, but he has not faced a challenge in the post like Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix will present. The defense he will see from the lengthy Payne and physical Nix will test him greatly.
Offensively, Payne and Nix will need to be effective as they have been consistently lately. Nix has a decisive advantage against Zeller in brute strength and in his post moves. Alex Gauna also should see some time and contribute offensively — but if he struggles at all defensively, he will be right back on the bench.
–Indiana’s size. The Hoosiers also start two guards at 6-foot-5 (Victor Oladipo and Verdell Jones III*), and bring in a lot of size to challenge Michigan State’s backcourt. Keith Appling or Brandon Wood will have to guard a much taller player. This might be a time when Brandan Kearney is an ideal matchup at 6-foot-5.
Branden Dawson’s defense will be tested by one of those two as well, while Draymond Green will work on one of them from time to time.
*Jones has been battling a hip flexor and might not play in the game.
–– Resolve of the younger Spartans. Travis Trice, Dawson and Kearney have improved greatly since the early season losses, but this is the first true high-caliber team they have faced since then. How they respond if things aren’t going their way early, and shots aren’t falling, will be important to the Spartans success.
— Green. The senior leader will be a matchup problem for the Hoosiers. He should get good looks from three and also good scoring opportunities cutting to the hoop. But, his biggest contribution to the game will be in guiding younger players in a challenging game (as mentioned above).
— 3-point shooting. Michigan State holds its opponents to just 29.7 percent behind the arc, and Indiana shoots 45.9 percent. If Indiana knocks down its shots with such frequency, the Spartans will not be able to keep up in this game. Point guard Jordan Hulls is especially lethal from three, hitting 27-of-48 shots.
–Home-court advantage. Despite the Izzone not being there, Breslin Center will be a harsh road environment for the Hoosiers, who have played 10 of their 12 games at home. Big edge to Michigan State. **Editor’s note — the Izzone Alumni will be at this game**
— Michigan State on the offensive glass. The Spartans rank sixth in the nation in rebounding, and outrebound their opponents by an average of more than ten per game. Indiana ranks 109th in rebounding, and does not do a great job on the glass. Getting second-chance points is a surefire way for MSU to win this game.
Prediction: Zeller will struggle in his first road challenge and against a team with true post talent. Payne will have a double-double, and so will Green. Hulls will have a good game for the Hoosiers, but Wood and Appling will both outplay him.
Indiana will be held to a season-low point total, and Michigan State will win easily, 72-65.