Saturday, January 29, 2011

No Conjecture – IU Faces Basketball Buzzsaw

Indiana faces a buzzsaw tonight at Michigan State. That much is certain.

Anything else is mere conjecture, which should not be confused with conjure, which is what happens when you read too many Harry Potter books in too short a period of time.

Not that we’re admitting that.

Anyway, we offer the big question -- can the Hoosiers win at the Breslin Center? The big answer -- sure, if they play like they did against Illinois and the Spartans continue their mostly cold-shooting ways.

Michigan State will play desperate. Its postseason depends on it. The Spartans are 12-8 overall, 4-4 in the Big Ten, and the NCAA tourney is no longer a given. Losing at home to Indiana would be a huge blow to its at-large-bid prospects.

Everybody keeps waiting for Michigan State to kick it in gear like it does every winter. But that might not happen this time. The Spartans have plenty of talent even with guards Chris Allen and Korie Lucious booted from the program for being, well, knuckleheads. But they don’t play like Tom Izzo teams of old. He points to poor shooting, which is true. They also might have had their confidence shaken from too many losses during too tough a non-conference schedule.

That, too, is conjecture.

From IU’s perspective, who cares? It just needs another win and Michigan State is vulnerable. It would be better if this game was at Assembly Hall, where the Hoosiers (11-10 could tap into the fan frenzy that helped make last Thursday night so special, but they don’t get the chance. This is the only regular season meeting and it comes at the Breslin Center, which means having to face the Spartans’ rowdy student section and a two-decade run of failure there.

As a former Spartant assistant coach under Izzo, Indiana coach Tom Crean is well aware of Breslin’s intimidating atmosphere.

“It will be as tough an atmosphere as there is in the country,” he said in a university release. “We’ve got to get up there and shut out everything as much as we can, except having conversations with one another. It’s not like you’re going to ignore (the crowd noise), but you have to do your best to work through it.”

Struggling or not, Michigan State still poses a major challenge with its rugged play, rebounding excellence and push-the-pace style.

“They are a tough and fast team that hits the offensive boards as well as anyone we will see,” Crean said. “With their speed, we will have to be at our best with our transition defense. We are going to have to have a rebounding mentality.”

The Illinois victory still resonates with IU, especially with the way it played in crunch time after a season of late-game fades. That will boost Hoosier prospects.

“We have been very focused,” Crean said. “I like our energy. You can talk as much as you want about what you need to do to close games, but no words can replace the experience of doing it.”

Don’t expect guard Verdell Jones to play. He figures to miss his third straight game with a knee injury. All Crean would say was, “He is making progress and we will see how things are after we travel.”

What -- you were expecting the secret of eternal youth?

Losing Jones means losing his 12.9 points, but IU has the firepower to make up for that. Sure, you probably know that Christian Watford averages 16.8 points and Jordan Hulls averages 10.5 points. Did also know that six players (Hulls, Victor Oladipo, Derek Elston, Will Sheehey, Tom Pritchard and Bobby Capobianco) shoot at least 50 percent from the field.

Granted, Pritchard and Capobianco average only a combined 3.2 points, but that misses the point that Crean’s drive heavy offense works.

“That shows me we don’t take bad shots that aren’t in the rhythm of what we do,” Crean said. “We will have to be smart and patient and get the best opportunity each possession.”

They also have to defend like their scholarships depend on it. You don’t need conjecture, or the ability to conjure, to figure that out.

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