The best team in the Big Ten visits Assembly Hall tonight.
Eleventh-ranked Michigan State was the nation's No. 1 team before the season began and two of its four losses are against perennial powerhouses Kentucky and Duke. Indiana coach Archie Miller noted that the Spartans, led by reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston, have “championship aspirations.”
What Michigan State hasn't done much this season is play on the road. The Spartans have played only three true road games, most recently a trip to West Lafayette that ended in a 71-42 loss to Purdue. They'll be entering an Assembly Hall that has quietly become a difficult place to play again.
Indiana guard Al Durham wants to keep that quiet. When asked about the Hoosiers having won four straight home games against ranked opponents, he jumped in and jokingly shushed the questioner.
“Protecting home court, holding serve at home, we really have preached it this year and not letting people come in and beat us on home court,” Durham said. “We spend a lot of time here, we put in a lot of work here, so it's just a sense of pride of holding your home court down.”
The Hoosiers have won 14 of their last 15 home games, including a 63-62 victory over the then-No. 6 Spartans in March. Winston had 20 points and 11 assists in that game and nearly won it by himself down the stretch.
Stopping him from taking over again will be a top priority for Indiana tonight.
“He gets everybody involved, he leads the charge for them,” Durham said of Winston, who is averaging 18.1 points and 6.1 assists this season. “I feel like he's their motor, how they go, so just him being a key player for them, he's the key, the head of the snake.
“I feel like if we can key in on the things that Cassius does and how he gets (his teammates) involved and just eliminating some of the factors that they do, I feel like we'll have a good chance.”
One of the game's key battles will be on the boards. Michigan State ranks third in the country in average rebound margin at plus 10.1, while Indiana is 10th at plus 9.1. The Spartans' Xavier Tillman, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds in Indiana's win last season at Assembly Hall, is third in the Big Ten in rebounding, at 10 per game.
Hoosiers forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and center Joey Brunk will be called upon to stop the Spartans from getting second-chances points. With an offense as efficient as Michigan State's – the Spartans rank fifth in the country in assists – limiting possessions is even more important than usual.
“Michigan State's sustained success has really correlated to the rebounding game,” Miller said. “That's part of the game within the game when you play them. If you don't rebound, the game is over when you play them right away.
“When you play Michigan State, in my opinion, it starts on the glass and then it moves into transition. They're great on the glass, they're great in transition, and if you can't handle those two things, you're going to get beat.”
Jackson-Davis and Brunk will also be important offensively.
Indiana's shooting woes have been well-documented and Michigan State ranks 13th in the country in opponent's 3-point percentage at 28.1%. The bulk of the Hoosiers' offense will likely come in the paint.
Indiana vs. Michigan State
When: 8:30 p.m. today
Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington
Records: Indiana (14-4, 4-3 Big Ten), Michigan State (14-4, 6-1)
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 1250 AM