Michigan State and Indiana tip off in just a few hours, so let's get this started with a quick bracketology update. My favorite bracket-obsessed peeps at B101 are on hiatus this season, so we have to settle for Joe Lunardi over at ESPN. He's pretty friendly to the Big Ten, so I guess we can live with it. Here's how he sees the Big Ten teams fitting in:
Michigan State: 1 seed out West
Ohio State: 2, Michigan: 3, Wisconsin: 4, Indiana: 4, Purdue: 8
Northwestern: 13 seed and a first four game vs. Texas
The Purple Cats are also on the "last four in" list. No love for Iowa or Illinois.
A Return to Assembly Hall
As for the big game tonight, it marks a homecoming of sorts for Michigan State assistant coach Dane Fife, who Hoosier fans no doubt hold in great regard for his role as defensive anchor of the 2002 national runner-up team. Fife was briefly an assistant under Mike Davis before becoming the head coach at IPFW at the age of 25. After six seasons in Fort Wayne, Fife decided to return to the Big Ten as an assistant under Tom Izzo.
Although Fife had some good times as a student and player for IU, he makes it clear that this is a business trip.
They Call him "Big Zed" in Canada
"I grew up wanting to play for Indiana, and I wanted to play for Bob Knight. I fell in love with the school. I fell in love with Indiana basketball. I created a lot of memories there. On the flip side, I’m a Spartan now, and it feels good. Indiana always, always, always will be of great importance to me, but I’m a Spartan now, and I’m proud to be part of this great program. Job 1 is going there and winning the game."
Indiana blog Inside the Hall notes that IU will need better performances out of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo if it wants to avoid a result similar to December's 80-65 Michigan State win.
Both Zeller and Oladipo struggled in the first meeting with the Spartans. Zeller had only four points and three rebounds, and Oladipo scored 10 points on an inefficient 13 shots. If the No. 18 Hoosiers (22-7, 9-7) are going to upset No. 5 Michigan State (24-5, 13-3) tonight at Assembly Hall, they are going to need more production from both players.
For Zeller, the game is a chance at redemption. He got pushed around by Adrian Payne and Derrick Nix the first time around, and he looked like a freshman for one of the few times all season.
The Hoosiers might catch a break because Michigan State big man Derrick Nix's status for tonight's game is up in the air. Nix suffered a foot sprain in his team's win over Nebraska, and Izzo is not sure how much he'll get out of the junior. Expect Nix to play something less than the 18.8 minutes per game he is averaging this season.
Crimson Quarry notices that this season's edition of the Spartans is more than just a bunch of big ole scrappy rebounders.
Usually, MSU is awesome on the boards and somewhere between "pretty good" and "not terrible" at everything else. This year, MSU is awesome at a lot of things. As formidable as MSU is in any season, this probably is the Spartans' best team since their golden era of 1999-2001.
The Only Colors is stressing the importance of making IU uncomfortable on the perimeter.
The focus is clear -- have Keith Appling perform the same great defensive duties he did last game on Hulls, hope that Dawson's rapidly improving defense keep Watford in check, and Roth...well, he's going to drain threes regardless. He's IU's Craig Moore.
Have fun watching the game tonight! Remember, there is also Minnesota at Wisconsin at 8 PM on BTN.