One school has a pair of NCAA Tournament Championships and
eight Final Four appearances. Its season
got off to a 0-2 start and appeared heading towards a rare bad campaign. The other has five NCAA titles along with
eight Final Four trips, fell on hard times in recent years and seemed to be on the
way back after a 15-1 start.
Their fortunes this season have since taken different
turns. Michigan State,
who started 0-2, has since won 24 of 27 and the Spartans are on the verge of
the regular season title in the Big Ten.
The Indiana Hoosiers, who were 15-1 in early January, have gone 7-6
since then and need help just to claim fourth place in the conference and a first-round
bye in next week's tournament.
The two collide Tuesday night at Assembly Hall in Bloomington for an ESPN
prime-time broadcast. Michigan State
opened as a 2 point road favorite with 139 for the total.
We all knew better than to write off Tom Izzo and the
Spartans after they dropped their first two games back in November. After all, MSU was facing North Carolina and Duke, who were ranked No.
1 and No. 6 respectively in the two preseason polls. Both games were played at neutral sites, and
the Spartans at least covered the 74-69 defeat to the Blue Devils who were 7.5
Still, it would've been a stretch to suggest at that time Michigan State would rise all the way to fifth in
the latest rankings released Monday. It has definitely been a grind, and in a
conference that boasts great defense, the defensive end of the floor is where
most of the success reaching this point can be traced.
Crashing the glass on both ends of the court is the
trademark for Izzo's troops. No team grabs
more rebounds in Big Ten games than the Spartans, and they're among the better
teams in the country at snaring offensive boards overall this season, more than
12 per game. When you factor in MSU
hitting field goals at a 47.6% clip, which ranks 25th nationally, the offensive
rebounds are even more impressive.
Michigan State certainly had the defense working in a 58-48
Ohio State on Feb. 11. Eight point
underdogs, the Spartans stymied the Buckeyes who made just 14 of 53 field
goals, and converted just 2 of 15 from long range. They have a rematch with Ohio State
in East Lansing
this Sunday to close the regular season, and some might think the Spartans
could be caught looking ahead to that match.
There's really no reason for that, however, since Tuesday's game with
the Hoosiers can sew up the conference title.
Just as the Buckeyes will be looking for revenge over Sparty
come Sunday, Indiana
is out to get even for a setback to MSU in this contest. The Big Ten opener for both schools saw the
Hoosiers enter the Dec. 28 game with an unblemished 12-0 record before the
Spartans handed them their first loss, 80-65.
was 6 point chalk in the game, and picked up its sixth consecutive win vs. Indiana.
The Hoosiers have come out of the funk they entered February
in following a 2-5 stretch that started with a home loss to Minnesota.
Tom Crean's crew has won five of their last six, going 3-2 ATS in the
stretch with one of the games (vs. NC Central) failing to make the college
basketball betting board. Indiana just avenged that loss to the Golden Gophers with
a 69-50 victory at Minnesota
on Sunday as a 2 point road dog. The
Jan. 12 defeat at home to Minnesota
remains the Hoosiers' only home loss of the season.
While Indiana is 16-1 at
home, all five of Michigan State's losses have come away from East Lansing.
Three of those setbacks (at Northwestern, Michigan
came on the Big Ten schedule.
Taking a Chance: The top
4 teams from the regular season will get a bye in the first round of next
week's Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Indiana
needs to win both games this week (MSU on Tuesday and Purdue on Sunday), plus get
some help to get into fourth. That gives
the Hoosiers plenty to play for since fifth place will most likely mean a
second round matchup against either these same Spartans or the Buckeyes.
The Dec. 28 clash
between these two jumped the 141 point total despite Indiana going more than six minutes without
scoring in the second half. That makes it very tempting to jump on the OVER in
this one, which is set two points lower than the first meeting. I'll go the other way, however, and take Michigan State in a close, physical game that
sees neither club reach 70. My free picks are
Spartans -2 and UNDER 139.