Key matchups in Top-5 showdown
Coming into tonight, Spartan basketball fans only have had one chance to storm the court after knocking off the top team in the country at home.
Tuesday night, they might get another.
For the first time in history, the MSU men’s basketball team will host a top-five matchup, as the No. 4 Spartans (22-4 overall, 11-2 Big Ten) square off against No. 1 Indiana (23-3, 11-2) in front of a national television audience (7 p.m., ESPN).
But it’s not the number “five” in the rankings, but the five on the court for both teams that matter most, with Tuesday’s game arguably pitting the sport’s top starting five’s against each other.
The last time these two teams squared off, Appling managed just three points and four turnovers before fouling out in a season-low 19 minutes. Hulls is one of the conference’s best outside shooters, but Appling will be on a mission to atone for their first game.
Harris and Ferrell is a matchup of the Big Ten’s top freshman guards and both know each other well, growing up in Indiana. Harrisplayed the best game of his young career the last time he faced the Hoosiers and has been red hot ever since, averaging 13.6 points per game while shooting 57 percent from beyond the arc.
Both players come into Tuesday’s tilt hobbled by ankle injuries, but expected to play. MSU head coach Tom Izzo said he worried Dawsonstill was a little foggy in MSU’s win over Nebraska this weekend after taking a hit to the head the game before. Oladipo’s playing like the best player in the country, so MSU will need Dawson at 100 percent to win.
Payne dominated his matchup with Watford the last time these two teams played, scoring 18 points with nine rebounds, while holding Watford to 12 points and six boards. Since then, Payne has cooled off slightly, scoring in double figures in just three of the following five games, while Watford has reached double figures every time out, averaging 15 points a game.
On paper, this matchup might seem to be the most lopsided in Indiana’s favor, with Zeller entering the year as the Preseason National Player of the Year. But Nix has played well of late — scoring 14.7 points a game in the past three games — and has done a good job against Zeller historically. The Hoosiers’ star sophomore has failed to score in double figures in all but one of three meetings against MSU’s big man, while averaging a mere 4.7 rebounds per game.