East Lansing — There are no guarantees in a college basketball season, and this year in the Big Ten is further proof of that old adage.
But glancing back at Michigan State’s run to a conference championship last season, there is at least one thing that stands out as a bit odd. A pair of games against one opponent that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
That, of course, would be the fact Michigan State was swept by Indiana. The Hoosiers finished the 2018-19 season 8-12 in Big Ten play and just 19-16 overall. And yet, they marched into East Lansing in early February and knocked off the sixth-ranked Spartans and pulled off the double dip a month later in Bloomington. From Feb. 9 to the Final Four, Michigan State’s only loss came at Indiana.
So, yeah, it’s firmly planted in the minds of the Spartans as they prepare to head to Assembly Hall for an 8:30 p.m. tip-off on Thursday.
“Oh, yeah,” Cassius Winston said when asked about the struggles last season with Indiana. “They swept us last year. So definitely we’ve got to come back and know we just can't let that happen. We know how tough it is to play there.
"They’ve got really good team that rebounds, is very physical. So it's gonna be a battle and we gotta be ready for that.”
Coach Tom Izzo pushed it a bit further.
“Indiana as a team that beat us twice,” Izzo said. “Revenge. It doesn't seem to be as powerful in the new millennial way of looking at things.
"It is for me, but the damn NCAA won't let me play.”
No, Tom, they won’t. So for No. 11 Michigan State (14-4, 6-1 Big Ten) to get a win in a building it’s lost two of its last three, it will be counting on a far better road performance than the last time it traveled to the state of Indiana. That was back on Jan. 12 at Purdue, a game that resulted in a 29-point blowout.
Nobody played well in that game — the only conference loss for the Spartans — but an improved effort out of sophomore Aaron Henry seems likely. The Indianapolis native will be close to home once again and the Hoosiers were another team that recruited him heavily. And fans at Assembly Hall don’t take too kindly to in-state guys who decided not to play for the Hoosiers.
Henry took some heat in last year’s trip and in 35 minutes, he had seven points and six rebounds but turned the ball over four times. His individual performance, however, is not what Henry is focusing on as the Spartans return to face the Hoosiers.
“We lost but it was cool,” Henry said. “It was a tough loss for us in the Big Ten because we needed that win and as far as our record last year in the Big Ten. But it was pretty cool. We’re not dwelling on it like it was the end of the world.”
This trip back to Indiana will be no different, Henry insisted.
“Just being from there I mean, I don't know if it means a little more to me than the other game,” Henry said. “The most important thing on my mind is just being different as far as getting a win on the road. It’s a huge week for us and the coaches have emphasized that a lot and I just want to get the win for our team.”
While Michigan State is focused on finding a way to play better on the road while getting past Indiana, the Hoosiers are feeling comfortable at home.
Indiana (14-4, 4-3) has lost at home just once this season, and that is when it blew a second-half lead to Arkansas. It has also had its share of success recently against ranked teams, winning four in a row at home over teams that were ranked in the top 25. That stretch began last season with back-to-back victories over Wisconsin and Michigan State followed this season with a non-conference win over Florida State in addition to a victory two weeks ago over Ohio State.
The atmosphere at Assembly Hall has played a significant role.
“Our students change the complexion of the energy level in our arena and we're going to need it in every game moving forward,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said, “because I think that every game is so valuable.”
Even with the wins over ranked teams and sweeping Michigan State a year ago, the Hoosiers are taking nothing for granted in what could prove to be a critical matchup in the Big Ten race.
“We know that Michigan State is a good team,” junior guard Aljami Durham said. “We're going to have to come in ready and we're going to have to come in locked in just because we know there aren't any flaky opponents in the Big Ten, so we're going to lock in and stay focused and try and get this win.”
Michigan State at Indiana
Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.
Records: No. 11 Michigan State 14-4, 6-1 Big Ten; Indiana 14-4, 4-3
Outlook: MSU leads the nation in assists per game (19.1) and is first in assist percentage at 68.7 percent (343 assists on 499 field goals). … Indiana freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis leads is averaging 14.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and two blocks per game. Junior forward Justin Smith (12.2) and senior guard Devonte Green (11.1) are also averaging in double figures.