An epic Big 10 clash is on tap for Tuesday evening when the top-ranked Indiana Hoosiers travel to East Lansing to take on the No. 4 Michigan State Spartans. Despite playing in one of the most hostile environments in college basketball, though, Tom Crean's squad will prove to be too offensively explosive for the home team to handle.
It isn't a question of defense for either team, as both live up to the conference powerhouse stereotype of being very strong in that area.
But what Sparty lacks is the offensive efficiency from its perimeter players that the Hoosiers have displayed all season, keyed by the outstanding play of junior Victor Oladipo.
The fact that Oladipo left the team's most recent win over Purdue with a sprained ankle was cause for concern, but he is expected to play. He even requested to go back into the game against the Boilermakers in the second half (h/t Indianapolis Star), but to no avail, since the game was well decided.
Assuming Oladipo is himself—the player who shoots a staggering 63.9 percent from the floor, better than 52 percent from distance and is a capable rebounder and passer—the Spartans just don't have many answers.
It's no surprise that Oladipo will gut it out for this one. ESPN Stats and Info breaks down just how high the stakes are.
Oladipo alone presents his own problems and burned MSU in the first matchup—a 75-70 Hoosiers win in Bloomington.
But that's not even to mention the highly versatile forward Christian Watford, who shoots nearly 50 percent from deep himself, and the sharpshooter Jordan Hulls, who strokes it at just over 48 percent beyond the arc. Will Sheehey also shoots a stellar 38.6 percent and over 50 percent from the floor overall.
Oh, and then there's the team's leading scorer, likely impending NBA lottery pick Cody Zeller, who averages 16.6 points per game for Indiana.
The Spartans have the size on the inside to match up with the likes of Zeller, with Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix. But there are so many dead-eye shooters for the Hoosiers that it will be impossible to cover them all.
Tom Izzo will likely have his Michigan State defense play a zone, live with the Hoosiers' shooters taking perimeter shots and count on the superior size advantage he has on the inside to out-rebound Indiana and win that way.
That can be a dangerous concoction for a visiting team. Missing a lot of perimeter shots early on and getting beat in transition can snowball into an early run, and this game could get away from the Hoosiers rather quickly if they aren't careful.
However, this is a composed bunch under Crean, and they have weathered several storms this season. In fact, their first true road loss came at Illinois less than two weeks ago, which was courtesy of a defensive breakdown that led to a wide-open layup at the buzzer.
If there were any moment to completely collapse under pressure, that was it for the Hoosiers. It is time for them to establish themselves as the true No. 1 team in the nation in a season where no one seems to want to own that label.
This matchup is a perfect opportunity for that to happen, thanks to the multifaceted—and most importantly, very efficient—offensive attack that will give IU the conference lead outright.