Less than a year removed from entering the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed, the unranked Indiana Hoosiers have the look of a very different basketball team.
Gone are draft darlings Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. Through 18 games the 2012-13 Hoosiers owned a sparkly 16-2 record with one conference loss. Now they sit at 12-6, 2-3 in Big Ten play.
This version shoots a worse field-goal percentage than 145 other teams, a far cry from the seventh-best number last season. There isn’t a top-100 scorer in the nation on this roster, and the team gives up six more points per game than it did a year ago, per NCAA.com.
Half of the Hoosiers’ losses have come against bad teams—Notre Dame, Illinois and Northwestern—while half have been to some of the best teams in the country—Connecticut, Syracuse and Michigan State.
But this team is capable of pulling off the upset, as it did to then-No. 3 Wisconsin one week ago.
Coming off a rough loss to Northwestern, Indiana takes on new No. 3 Michigan State, who embarrassed the Hoosiers 73-56 in early January.
If the Hoosiers want to get back to their upset ways they will have to play their best game of the season. Here are three keys for Indiana to have a chance at pulling off the victory in East Lansing.
Win the Paint
Spartans star forward Adreian Payne went down with a foot injury the last time these two teams met. He has already missed three games and may be out for two more weeks.
Though he was contributing 16.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game until the injury—both second-best on the team—Tom Izzo’s men haven’t missed a beat. They’ve won all three games by an average of 14 points.
But without Payne, Michigan State has no true inside presence. Its top-three remaining rebounders are 6’6" and under.
This provides Noah Vonleh the perfect opportunity to exploit his 6’10" frame on both ends of the floor. He already grabs 9.2 boards and blocks 1.3 shots per game and should be able to direct traffic in the paint.
Hit from Downtown
The Hoosiers shot just 4-for-18 from three-point range in their most recent defeat to the Wildcats, by far their worst mark in six losses this year.
They are hitting 31.1 percent from deep as a team this season, compared to 40.3 percent the previous one. Will Sheehey’s percentage has dropped 75 points, while Yogi Ferrell’s rose above 100.
If Indiana can cause the Spartans to collapse on Vonleh, Ferrell and the Hoosiers should see several good looks from long range.
Slow Down Gary Harris
Gary Harris and Keith Appling have shouldered the load in Payne’s absence.
Appling has kept steady, scoring 16.7 points while dishing 4.5 assists per game.
Harris’ scoring has climbed steadily since the big man went down, averaging 18.7 points over the last three games.
Appling has struggled without Payne, though, in the last two games. Gillian Van Stratt of MLive.com reported the issues:
If you've picked up a Michigan State box score over the past week, you may be asking yourself why Keith Appling hasn't been more productive.
What the stat sheet doesn't account for is the extra defensive attention the Spartans' senior point guard is receiving since Adreian Payne was sidelined with a sprained right foot.
"It's a lot harder for me to come off ball screens," Appling said. "It's a lot harder for me to get open, a lot harder for me to get open looks."
Clamping down on Harris and keeping the paint solid will make it difficult for Appling—the second best three-point shooter in the Big Ten—to get clean looks.
Despite a rash of injuries the Spartans are on a roll. Their scoring is down but they find ways to win and make it look relatively easy. Tom Crean’s men have a tall task ahead if they want to remain inside the March Madness bubble.
All stats provided be ESPN unless otherwise noted.