When: 12:00 PM ET Saturday, March 2nd, 2019
Where: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana
How to watch: Fox (Gus Johnson, Jim Jackson, and Lisa Byington)
The Indiana Hoosiers will look to keep their momentum going on Saturday as they welcome the visiting Michigan State Spartans in a crucial game for Indiana’s tournament hopes.
Though many of us likely wrote off Indiana’s tournament chances following a stretch of 12 losses in 13 games, Indiana’s upset of the #19 ranked Wisconsin Badgers has given some new life into what was looking to be a dead season. Indiana’s win over Wisconsin represented the teams’ fourth win over a top-25 team on the year, and though they sit at just 14-14, their five quadrant one wins in addition to zero quadrant three or four losses helps to bolster their tournament resume.
However, in order to secure a tournament berth, the Hoosiers will likely need to win each of their remaining three games on the season, including Saturday’s contest against the #6 ranked Michigan State Spartans.
As is typical of a Tom Izzo coached basketball team, Michigan State has started to hit their stride coming into March on a five-game winning streak, including wins against both Michigan and Wisconsin. The Spartans have dealt with their fair share of adversity with the losses of both Joshua Langford and Nick Ward, but Izzo has the Spartans playing at their highest level all season long.
Priority number one for Indiana will have to be trying to find a way to slow down the play of Spartans’ point guard Cassius Winston. Averaging 19.2 points along with a Big Ten-leading 7.4 assists per game on the season, Winston is a legitimate candidate for Big Ten Player of the year honors. With both Ward and Langford out for the Spartans, Winston has managed to elevate his game to an even higher level, including a 27-point and 8-assist performance in a win against Michigan.
Rob Phinisee will likely be tasked as the primary defender on Winston and Archie Miller has praised his defensive intensity at multiple points this season. This will be Phinisee’s toughest task defensively that he’s faced so far this season, and it is crucial that he finds a way to slow down Winston while also remaining aggressive himself offensively.
Xavier Tillman has also stepped up his level of play in the absence of Nick Ward, adding 33 points and 15 rebounds over his last two games. With Ward out for the foreseeable future, Tillman will play a crucial role for the Spartans down low.
Though Indiana’s season has been through many ups and downs, there is still a legitimate window for this team to make the NCAA tournament. However, to do so, they will need to take care of business for the rest of the season. With the Spartans playing for a potential Big Ten Championship, both teams will have a lot on the line on Saturday.