To beat Michigan State, which the Indiana Hoosiers will attempt to do tonight, means using the quantum physics principle of being in two places at the same time.
Okay, quantum physics doesn’t actually say that, it talks about a really, really tiny particple being all over the place and its location only locked in when you observe it, but that misses the point, which is to beat the return-to-glory Spartans means you have to rebound and stop the fast break.
That means everybody has to rebound, and if you don’t get it, you have to sprint like you’re Usain Bolt back to stop the fast break.
Because Michigan State will fast break you into oblivion if you let it.
Guard Keith Appling is the catalyst in that and in December’s meeting -– an 80-65 IU loss that ended its 12-0 start –- he had 25 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
The Hoosiers can’t let that happen again. Figure Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey will share that assignment.
Then there’s point-forward Draymond Green, who more and more acts like a point guard. He will almost certainly be the Big Ten MVP. He leads the league in rebounding (10.6) and is among the league leaders in scoring (15.6) and assists (3.7). Most important, he is a rare leader who even gets coach Tom Izzo to sometimes listen to him.
The day before Michigan State played at Ohio State, which had won like 40 straight home games, Green convinced Izzo to basically just have a walk-through practice instead of the usual grueling workout. Green said the Spartans needed to have their legs at full strength to win at Value City Arena. Izzo agreed, Michigan State won and all was right with the green-and-white world.
Look for Christian Watford -- IU’s most versatile defender -- to get Green, although Oladipo and Sheehey might also rotate in.
So the bottom line: the Hoosiers have to be within striking range of the Spartans in total rebounds, can’t let Michigan State rule the offensive boards, control the fast break, and shoot at a high level.
Really, how easy can it be?
IU is 22-7 and 9-7 in the Big Ten. It can still earn a No. 4 Big Ten tourney seed by winning tonight and Sunday against Purdue, and if Wisconsin (10-6) loses both of its games.
The Badgers hosts fading Minnesota (which looks like it has given up on the season) and fading Illinois (which looks like its headed for a coaching change), so fourth place probably ain’t happening. But winning these two games would likely secure a top-5 NCAA tourney seed no matter what happens in next week’s Big Ten tourney.
Michigan State, by the way, has climbed to No. 5 in the polls with a 24-5 record. With a 13-3 Big Ten mark, it has clinched at least a share of the conference title, and can win it outright with a victory tonight.
IU has already beaten then-No. 1 Kentucky and then-No. 2 Ohio State in Assembly Hall. It can beat the Spartans there.
That’s our thoughts. Here’s what coach Tom Crean thinks:
“We’re excited about the week ahead. We’re excited to play against a team as good as Michigan State. They seem to be clicking on all cylinders.
“When I watch them play, they are the infamous wardrobe come to life every game. That’s how they play.
EDITOR’S NOTE: What does “infamous wardrobe come to life” mean? We have no clue. Guess it means the Spartans play really hard and physical.
But here’s more Crean:
“It comes down to the rebounding and running and all the things they do really, really well. We’ve got to match that throughout the game. They’re a worthy champion the way they’ve played throughout the conference season. We have our work cut out for us all week starting (tonight).
Crean has a few other thoughts. For instance:
“Michigan State is a tremendously capable passing team. Everybody can score and pass. One of the great separators for them nationally is how well their big men pass the ball. They bring the wardrobe to life (EDITOR’S NOTE PART II – we still have no clue what this means) every time they play with the aggressiveness on the backboards, with the way they move the ball, with the way they defend. They’re one of the best teams in the country, no doubt about it.
“They pass extremely well. The biggest difference is how much that’s a big part of offense. Draymond is part of every posseion in numerous ways. When your best player is a great facilitator, like he is, when you’ve got Keith Appling, who has the speed and quickness,and the abilituy to make the next play, continue way he does, they’re unique. They don’t take possessons off. They are the calm in the eye of the storm. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, they always believe they’re going to win it.”
IU has to match that belief, then get really, really physical. If it does, it can win. You don’t need to know quantum physics, or understand wardrobe’s coming to life, to recognize that.