The Big Ten title is still up for grabs! Well, sort of. Indiana's tourney prepping 70-55 victory over Michigan State on Tuesday night may end up forcing the Spartans to share the regular season conference championship instead of having it all to themselves. Their kindergarten teachers would be proud.
Speaking of pride, as a Penn State fan, I've never really grasped the significance of a college basketball conference championship (and I may never grasp it!). This isn't the Ivy League, in which the regular season championship gets an automatic bid into the tournament. Even if it was that way, this is the Big Ten, a conference that's usually good enough to get at least its top four teams in the dance.
The regular season title also lacks the dramatics of a Big Ten Tournament championship, where there are confetti and hats and a nationally televised CBS Sunday afternoon telecast that just feels important because Jim Nantz said "Hello friends" at the beginning. That said, winning the tournament championship is much easier to do than winning the regular season one. I should know, because Penn State was one win away from the tournament title last season.
Anyway, whoever shares either title will end up having their season defined in the NCAA Tournament anyway, right? It's not like in college football when your team is already eliminated from the national title chase so you might as well win the conference. The truth is, I don't know how it feels. Let me know in the comments!
The Actual Game
About that game... Indiana jumped out to an 18-8 start and Michigan State just didn't have what it took to come back from that. They came close a few times -- mostly on the strength of clutch Draymond Green three-pointers that kept IU from completely pulling away -- but Indiana was too furious on the offensive end to let the lead slip away.
Victor Oladipo was freaking fantastic for the Hoosiers. The athletic sophomore scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half to help gain a 41-27 IU advantage at the break. Oladipo was also 7 of 8 from the free throw line to cap a brilliant month of February in which he has solidified his role as a key cog for Tom Cream's Hoosiers. He probably would have had more points if not for a left ankle injury he suffered at the end of the first half.
On his aggressive play, Oladipo said, "I just felt I could go past because a lot of the guards weren’t checking me. I was just trying to use my athleticism to get past the defenders."
Christian Watford, who had perhaps his best game of the season (26 points, 10 boards) in Indiana's loss in East Lansing earlier this season, struggled mightily defending Draymond Green. However, Watford still managed a season high 14 rebounds and was 2 of 4 from beyond the arc en route to 10 points.
After Keith Appling of MSU hit on a pair of free throws to bring his squad within 6 points of the lead with 7 minutes left, Watford remarkably bounced a three-pointer in off the backboard to help put the game away. Also helping to finish the game was Jordan Hulls, who with 4 minutes left hit on a trey that he had no business taking to put Indiana up by 12. "That wasn't a good shot until it went in," said MIke Tirico on the ESPN broadcast. Hulls ended up with 10 points on the night.
Cody Zeller led the Hoosiers in scoring with 18 points. He went 7 of 12 from the field and did a great job finishing around the rim. Zeller only had 4 boards for the game, but his biggest play might have been the offensive rebound he grabbed to set up Watford's ridiculous bank shot.
For Michigan State, there weren't a lot of positives to speak of other than Green's performance. "We didn't defend them, we didn't rebound, we didn't execute," said Tom Izzo of his team's output.
The Spartans allowed IU to shoot for a 53% eFG%, which is more than 10% greater than what they allow on average to Big Ten opponents. Although Indiana did hit on a couple of big shots that weren't exactly advisable, there were far too many attempts by Oladipo and Zeller at the rim for Izzo's liking.
Michigan State did grab 12 offensive rebounds compared to Indiana's 9, but that was helped by the fact that MSU missed 6 more field goals than their opponents did. They also failed to prevent an offensive rebound in the key stretch described above.
From an individual standpoint, though, Draymond Green was spectacular. He used quickness to get by Watford and power to get by Oladipo. He also shot jumpers over both defenders only his way to 29 points and 8 rebounds. Green did turn the ball over 6 times, but he also shot 10 for 17 from the field. The rest of the Spartans were 10 for 34.
IU head coach Tom Crean was very proud of his team for competing with Michigan State on the glass. "It's not hit or be hit, it's hit or be out," he said, "This is a game where you have to be in the mix because they set the standard for our league and the country in terms of toughness. Our guys matched it and I'm very, very proud of them."
Next up, Indiana plays at home versus Purdue on Sunday for a chance to clinch the 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Because there are 12 teams, this season, that would still have the Hoosiers playing in the first round. Michigan State can still take the Big Ten regular season title with a win at home in what should be a very entertaining game versus Ohio State on Sunday.