I think MSU wins and probably easily. Doesn’t mean MSU is definitively a better team than IU in an objective sense (though I do believe that to be true and would not even remotely hesitate picking them to win even on a neutral floor), but the combination of matchups, strengths and weaknesses and circumstance leads me to think MSU wins. I’m not saying a Michigan style beatdown, but a comfortable win in a game MSU largely controls.
Why do I think that?
– I think when MSU has been challenged with facing a high end point guard, for the most part they’ve done the job in limiting that player in terms of the way he gets production. Yogi had a terrible night from the floor against Iowa but he got into the lane enough to shoot 8 free throws. Against Trimble and Walton, MSU did a nice job of turning high end point guards into one dimensional guys…they were scoring on jumpers or not at all. I’m expecting MSU to do similar things in this matchup. Yogi may score a good number of points, but I don’t think he’ll dominate the game in the way IU probably needs him to.
– IU has improved defensively from November. How could they not? They’re 57th in adjusted defensive efficiency, which still isn’t great but it’s semi respectable. Yet, there are still noticable weaknesses. The biggest I see is transition defense. That’s a bad, bad weakness to have against this MSU team. I think the Spartans will exploit it.
– I also think they’re still soft on the interior defensively, though admittedly better than they were a season ago. Despite his size, I don’t think Bryant is a particularly great defender yet. I expect MSU to get a lot of work done in the paint as well in this game.
– Everyone knows that IU’s strength is their ability to put blitzes on opponents via a bunch of threes and fast paced offensive play. Most teams don’t want to play that game with IU. MSU will. MSU is at home. I expect IU to have more trouble hitting shots than they do at Assembly Hall…tends to go with the territory. One thing about every Crean team I’ve seen at IU save the 12-13 group…they ride emotional waves like no one else. At home, you can sense the spurts coming and the crowd seems to carry them. On the road, it’s often a very different story.
– They’ve played 6 road games in the league so far…3-2 record. I’d say the Michigan win and the one over Nebraska were good performances. They were not good at all in relatively close wins over Rutgers and Minnesota and they lost to Wisconsin and Penn State.
– It’s tough to maintain high end focus and momentum. The teams which do it are truly special groups. I don’t think IU is special. They were jacked last night, had something to prove and did so. Now carry that to Sunday, against an MSU team which feels it let one slip away…in East Lansing…MSU with two extra prep days. Those types of things don’t fall on the Hoosier side of the ledger.
Now, in fairness to IU, they certainly could find ways to win this game. If Yogi dominates, that helps them considerably, if he’s making plays for others and creating havoc. Troy, if he’s under control, creates matchup problems for MSU when he’s playing the 4 (of course, I don’t think he can check Deyonta Davis in the post either, so there’s that). If guys like Johnson, Zeisloft, etc. are unconscious from three, that could be an issue. I just think the odds of that stuff happening are considerably lower than MSU’s advantages playing out in this game.