Michigan State is traveling down to Bloomington this Sunday to take on star senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and Indiana.
Senior forward Malik Hall, one of the team’s most versatile and important players, will still be sidelined for the conference matchup.
Missing a player like Hall in the lineup is sure to sting, but the play of freshman forward Jaxon Kohler in Tuesday’s 70-57 win over Rutgers should provide some comfort for the coaching staff. Playing a career-high 23 minutes, Kohler earned his first collegiate double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 boards.
“Jaxon was encouraging last night,” Head Coach Tom Izzo said on Friday.
Although the Spartans eventually took firm control of the game, they were plagued by another rough start in the opening minutes, letting Rutgers surge to an early 14-5 lead. Those slow starts are risky, especially against a strong conference foe - MSU learned that the hard way in the one-point loss to Purdue.
Much to the chagrin of Izzo, it’s another quick turnaround for both squads. MSU and Indiana both played Thursday evening. Izzo and the coaching staff are taking it a tad easier on the players to combat fatigue, shortening film sessions and cutting back.
“A football coach once told me, ‘a healthy guy not as prepared is better than a prepared guy that’s not healthy,’” Izzo said.
Scouting the opponent
Big Ten play has not been kind to Indiana. Pegged in the preseason as one of the top teams in the conference, the Hoosiers lost four of their first five Big Ten games.
Although conference play didn’t kick off the way fans and pundits expected, the Hoosiers seemed to have stabilized in recent weeks. Indiana has won two straight against quality conference opponents, beating Wisconsin in Bloomington before dominating Illinois on the road.
"After a couple of embarrassing losses in their minds - losing at home, we did that too - I see a change in his team in the last two games,” Izzo said.
Unsurprisingly, Jackson-Davis has played lights-out in that stretch. He scored a season high 35 points against Illinois, as well as nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Averaging 18.6 points and 9.8 rebounds a game, the 6-foot-9-inch forward is yet another talented conference big that MSU will have to contend with.
“He’s got sick athleticism,” Izzo said. “He’s elite for a guy his size.”
The Spartans will also have to deal with freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino in the backcourt. He has impressed in his debut season, leading the team in assists (4.5 per game) and averaging 13.2 points. Hood-Schifino has been especially lethal from beyond the arch when he heats up, shooting 44% on the season.
“He’s an NBA guard,” Izzo said.
As a team, Indiana has excelled in offense this season. The Hoosiers average 79 points a game, second only to Iowa in the Big Ten. That effectiveness has been spurred on by a highly efficient 50.9 field-goal percentage, by far the best in the conference.
With the best attendance in the Big Ten, Indiana's hostile environment is yet another factor MSU has to deal with.
“I think that place will be rocking like no other,” Izzo said.
Tipoff is slated for noon and the game will be televised on CBS.