Michigan State is not Michigan State.
In a year in which the Big Ten is deeper than any time in recent memory, the program that has been the conference's most successful in the 21st century is not one of the league's 10 teams projected to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. After making every tournament that's been played since 1998, the Spartans (10-9) are in an unfamiliar position: spoiler.
They have a chance to play that role this afternoon at Assembly Hall when they take on an Indiana team in desperate need of a win. The Hoosiers are in the midst of a crucial stretch, needing to pile up victories before a grueling three-game finishing kick against Rutgers, Michigan and Purdue. IU grabbed an important bubble triumph Wednesday against Minnesota and can climb above .500 in Big Ten play for the first time with a win today.
With three wins in their last four games, the Hoosiers (12-9, 7-7 Big Ten) are growing in confidence.
“You can see it in practice, just guys coming in every day ready to work, really not getting down on ourselves if we lose a game,” point guard Rob Phinisee said of the Hoosiers' changing mindset. “We know it's the end of the season, we have to keep moving forward because at the beginning of the season we had a lot of high hopes, so we know if we want to get those done we have to lock in right now.”
Phinisee is one player in particular the Hoosiers want to play with confidence. The junior from Lafayette has been “worrying too much” in coach Archie Miller's view, and Miller wants him to play more freely. Phinisee showed how effective he can be playing that way when he had 10 points and six assists in the win over the Golden Gophers.
“I don't care if he goes 0 for 10 at this point,” Miller said. “It really doesn't matter to me, because his value to our team when he is aggressive defensively, when he is driving like he was (Wednesday), when he gets six assists during the game, that is what we need Rob to do.
“Go 0 for 30, I don't care.”
The Spartans (4-9 in the Big Ten) have lost six of their last eight, including a 75-65 loss to Purdue on Tuesday. Despite their recent slide, the Spartans are still a physical team on the boards, and Indiana is prepared for its toughness to be tested.
“(In the last two games) against Ohio State and Minnesota, we didn't rebound as well as we should have,” said Phinisee, whose team gave up a combined 25 offensive rebounds in those games. “We know coming in Saturday, that's Michigan State's bread and butter, just them crashing the glass and getting out in transition. If we limit those (chances), we should have a good chance of winning.”
Indiana vs. Michigan State
When: Noon today
Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington
Records: Indiana (12-9, 7-7 Big Ten), Michigan State (10-9, 4-9)
Radio: 92.3 FM