Tradition is a big part of college athletics, and you won't find two college basketball programs with much more tradition than Indiana and Michigan State.
From the head coach all the way down, the Hoosiers and the Spartans exude excellence, competitive spirit and have rich histories of success on the hardwood. This year is no different—both are ranked inside the Top 15 and have posted just one loss in Big Ten play so far.
As they prepare to square off Sunday afternoon in Assembly Hall for the first time this season, it's important to both remember how these programs came to prominence and why they are staying there as of this year.
Indiana is led by big man Cody Zeller and guard Victor Oladipo, two guys that continue to post big numbers in Tom Crean's high-scoring offense. For Michigan State, Keith Appling continues to lead the charge as his career winds down, and Adreian Payne continues to use his athleticism to impress.
One loss in the Big Ten can mean the difference in being a No. 1 seed come March or sliding down to a No. 3 or No. 4 spot. Look for this game to have all the feel of an NCAA tournament showdown, and we've got all the information to get you primed for Sunday's action.
When: Sunday, Jan. 27, at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Assembly Hall; Bloomington, Ind.
Current Odds to Win NCAA Championship (according to Sportsbook): Indiana (6/1), Michigan State (40/1)
Key Injuries (via USA Today)
Michigan State—F Alex Gauna has the flu and is questionable for Sunday.
What's At Stake?
Sole possession of the Big Ten lead is on the line, as is some major momentum for both teams heading into a crucial conference stretch.
As noted by Jeff Rabjohns of Yahoo! Sports, this is a big one for the entire conference:
Michigan State (6-1), Indiana (5-1) and Michigan (4-1) are the three teams atop the Big Ten with just one conference loss.— Jeff Rabjohns (@JeffRabjohns) January 24, 2013
Indiana has both Michigan and Ohio State on its docket in the next four games following this matchup, while Michigan State also has in-state rival Michigan and Minnesota lurking in the next two weeks.
Michigan State can make a huge statement with a big win in a tough place to play, while Indiana can prove that some of this season's earlier letdowns were just a product of working out the kinks. The Hoosiers haven't finished opponents well (Minnesota, Northwestern), so Crean's team can take measures to fix that on Sunday.
Player to Watch: Michigan State Freshman G Gary Harris
Harris is an Indiana native making his first trip to Assembly Hall, and he figures to get more than the usual backlash of boos when his name is announced in the starting lineup.
Harris was an Indiana recruit but chose to go play for coach Izzo instead. As reported by Diamond Leung of MLive.com, there's sure to be a chorus of negativity that follows Harris when he touches the ball, but that won't stop him from being a big factor in this game.
Averaging 12.3 points per game, Harris is the kind of spark-plug talent that could help Michigan State make a surprise tournament run. The efforts of guys like Payne and Appling will keep this team afloat, but a fully engaged Gary Harris will make the Spartans extremely dangerous.
Dealing with shoulder injuries right now, Harris hasn't been at full strength. He'll need to find it on Sunday, as his game could have a direct impact on whether or not Michigan State can pull off this road upset.
Key Matchup: Indiana C Cody Zeller vs. Michigan State C Adreian Payne
This matchup features two guys that could be playing in the NBA soon, and Payne will be tasked with stopping one of, if not the best big man in college basketball right now.
Zeller is averaging over 16 points and shooting 61 percent from the floor, but Payne is a good interior defender and rebounder that can impact a game with his shot-blocking ability and athleticism.
The edge certainly goes to Zeller in this one, but don't count out Payne, who has a few tricks of his own and could make the Indiana interior defense cringe if he gets on the same page with Appling and these Spartan guards.
Assembly Hall isn't as scary as it was before the Wisconsin Badgers came in and beat the Hoosiers last Tuesday. Still, Michigan State has a tall task ahead of it, and Indiana needs to hit its stride to be considered a national title contender. Indiana may lead big early, but this game will be close down the stretch.
Indiana 73, Michigan State 68
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.
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