Indianapolis - If the fifth-seeded Spartans want to beat No. 4 seed Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament on Friday, they will have to overcome two big hurdles - their youth and the always-present threat of Hoosier forward Jared Jeffries.
Jeffries, the Big Ten Player of the Year, was key to the Hoosiers 83-65 win over MSU on Jan. 8 in Bloomington, Ind., scoring 21 points. And he enters Fridays game with the quadruple threat of being the conference leader in blocked shots, No. 2 in rebounding, sixth in steals and No. 7 in scoring, with 15.1 points per game.
But hes not unstoppable. MSU was able to keep Jeffries to 11 points in their second meeting, a 57-54 Spartan win Feb. 24 at Breslin Center. Indiana only shot 33 percent in that meeting, compared to nearly 63 percent at the January contest.
And, in MSUs favor, Jeffries is nursing a sore ankle. But MSU head coach Tom Izzo said he - and the other Hoosiers - is still a threat.
MSU (19-10 overall, 10-6) and Indiana (19-10, 11-5) have never met in the Big Ten Tournament.
Im not sure how Jeffries is yet, I know hes getting healthier every day, Izzo said. If hes like he was the first time we played him I think we may have to triple him. Hes so active.
Thats what makes him so difficult to guard. If hes inside and he causes you to (double-team him), and you leave one of those guys open for a second, theyre going to make shots.
But Jeffries isnt the only problem MSU faces. Izzo is worried his young team may not be able to rise to the heightened intensity of tournament play.
MSUs freshman trio of guard Kelvin Torbert, guard Chris Hill and swingman Alan Anderson will appear in their first Big Ten Tournament - and freshman often dont play with the sense of urgency in March that upperclassmen do.
The last couple years weve had a solid group of juniors and seniors, and Indiana for example, theres going to be a good core of juniors and seniors that know this is going to be their last Big Ten Tournament, Izzo said.
In action Thursday during the first day of the Big Ten Tournament:
No. 9 seed Iowa (17-14, 5-11) routed No. 8 seed Purdue 87-72. Iowa guard Luke Recker led all scorers with 25 points on 9-of-10 shooting. He also added six rebounds as the Hawkeyes out rebounded the Boilermakers (14-18, 5-11) 41-28.
Guard Willie Deane was Purdues top scorer with 16 points and three assists. Purdue advances to play No. 1 seed Wisconsin (18-11, 11-5) at 2 p.m. Friday.
In the second game, No. 10 seed Michigan (11-17, 5-11) defeated the seventh-seeded Northwestern Wildcats 72-51. Northwestern (16-13, 7-9) shot 33 percent from the field while U-M shot 46 percent.
Wolverine forward LaVell Blanchard scored a game high 26 points and added six rebounds. U-M moves on to play No. 2 seed Ohio State (20-7, 11-5) at 6:40 p.m. Friday.
In the nightcap, sixth seeded Minnesota (17-11, 9-7) beat No. 11 seed Penn State 84-60. The Nittany Lions (7-21, 3-13) committed 17 turnovers.
Big Ten Freshman of the Year Rick Rickert finished with 21 points and six rebounds for Minnesota. Gopher forward Dusty Rychart lead all scorers with 23 points.
The Golden Gophers advance to play third seeded Illinois (23-7, 11-5) at 9:10 p.m. Friday.