Spartans face-off against No. 7 Indiana in a pivotal Big Ten matchup Sunday
There are several times each season when a team can signal a distinct turning point of the year, often coming through a signature win against a marquee opponent.
The No. 13 MSU basketball team is staring at a huge opportunity for one this weekend at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.
Coming off a road victory against Wisconsin, the Spartans (17-3 overall, 6-1 Big Ten) will aim for their seventh consecutive win Sunday (1 p.m., CBS) in a game against No. 7 Indiana (17-2, 5-1).
The Spartans have not had won a game in Assembly Hall since 2010 and only are 4-10 at the venue since Tom Izzo took over as the Spartans’ head coach during the 1995-96 season.
However, after seeing the Badgers earn a victory there 10 days ago, sophomore guard Travis Trice said there’s a confident mindset heading into the weekend matchup.
“(Wisconsin) went in there and stole a win and that helped them out,” Trice said. “I think we’re coming together, and we’re as close as we’ve ever been, and we’re finding ways to win.”
After starting the season as the No. 1 team in the country, the Hoosiers were unseated in a loss to Butler in December but have only that and the loss to Wisconsin against them. On an otherwise impressive résumé, the Hoosiers have victories over Georgetown, then-No. 14 North Carolina and No. 12 Minnesota to their credit.
Carrying one of the nation’s most balanced rosters, the Hoosiers feature five players that average double figures in scoring, led by the talented sophomore forward Cody Zeller. By averaging 16.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest, Zeller often is mentioned on the short list of the top players in the country.
Having multiple scoring threats forces Izzo to target some of the other Hoosier players including guards Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls, among others. But Izzo said paying attention to the physical way Butler defeated Indiana will be a virtue for MSU this weekend.
“It was a very physical game, just like Butler plays,” Izzo said. “But I thought Butler cut out pretty well, especially Oladipo. … Another guy that is a key is (forward Christian) Watford. I mean, he’s been a little up and down and when he’s good … that makes a big difference in their team, too.
“Because Zeller is gonna get some of his, but you’ve just try to make him get them in the post, not on the break.”
For a team searching for a turning point, there are few games ahead that will give the Spartans a chance to strongly pivot into the postseason. Six of the final 11 games come against ranked opponents, having to play No. 2 Michigan twice, No. 14 Ohio State on the road and hosting the Hoosiers at home.
But the weekend’s contest holds importance because of the same reason last season’s road victory over Ohio State did: confidence. The then-No. 11 Spartans battled to a 58-48 win over the Buckeyes in February 2012, a game many players view as the turning point of the season that jump-started the momentum of a postseason run.
Keeping the difficult road ahead in mind, senior center Derrick Nix said earning a win in Bloomington would have much of the same effect with this year’s squad.
“We won that game at Ohio State and it just gave us a little more confidence,” Nix said. “If we can go down there and get this game, it’d be good for our program, a big confidence builder and it would help us out a lot.”