Hoosiers toe-to-toe with Cassius

Earlier this week, Indiana coach Archie Miller called Thursday’s game with Michigan State a matchup with a “heavyweight.”

Appropriate enough, considering the Spartans are led by a star named Cassius.

“He’s, like, their motor, how they go,” IU junior Al Durham said of Cassius Winston, MSU’s point guard. “He’s like the key, the head of the snake for them.”

That’s a challenge both Durham and fellow co-captain Devonte Green can embrace as leaders of the Hoosiers’ backcourt. Players like them should come to a place like IU to face talents like Winston, who is widely regarded as the top point guard in college basketball.

It’s a big-time matchup in a marquee portion of the schedule, with the No. 11 Spartans followed by No. 17 Maryland, both on IU’s home floor. A win this week could produce season-altering results for a program hungry to get back to the NCAA Tournament in March.

It’s time to shine, but taking down the Winston-led Spartans will require more than a great individual effort from Green or Durham or backcourt mates Rob Phinisee and Armaan Franklin. Winston is so good because he’s so crafty, using the Spartans’ ball-screen action to his advantage and picking defenses apart.

“It’s going to take five people to guard him and the ball screens that they run,” Green said. “And everybody has to be locked in and doing their job in order for it to work.”

Winston and the Spartans (14-4, 6-1 Big Ten) showed they were vulnerable in recent weeks, when the institution to the north, Purdue, held down MSU in a 71-42 result, forcing an ordinarily savvy point guard into nine turnovers.

It can be done, but the Hoosiers (14-4, 4-3) have to be ready from the tip, and they have to be together. In recent games, Miller has seen IU improve defensively, holding opponents to sub-40-percent shooting in three of its last five contests. But communication, in particular, is an aspect where Miller still thinks his players can be better.

Communication, versus the ball screens IU will face, could be the most important factor of them all in Thursday’s result. It’s not as much about Winston, the individual, as what Winston does to get forwards like Xavier Tillman, Aaron Henry, and Gabe Brown involved.

“It’s a very, very ‘know your opponent, know personnel’ game,” Durham said. “I feel like if we can key in on the things that Cassius does and how he gets them involved and just eliminating some of the factors that they do, I feel like we’ll have a good chance.”

Just as defending the Spartans’ best perimeter player will be a team effort, the task of out-rebounding MSU won’t be limited to IU’s frontcourt.

The Spartans are the nation’s No. 3 team in rebounding margin, pulling down 10.1 more boards per game than their opponents. When he was reminded of MSU’s strength there, Miller thought of long sophomores like Brown (6-foot-7) and Henry (6-6) and the challenge they will pose to IU’s backcourt, more than anything.

The Hoosiers are No. 10 in the country in rebounding margin, at 9.1, which is positive. But Miller doesn’t think IU’s guards have done enough there.

“I don’t think our perimeter guys have really answered the bell the way that we have needed them to so far this season on the glass, whether that’s just being able to be physical and block out and keep your guy off or being able to go get some clean ones on your own,” Miller said. “But that’s a huge part to this game … Michigan State, in particular, really hammers you on the boards.”

If the Hoosiers can play disciplined defensively and clean up on the boards, they give themselves a shot at a resume-boosting win. It would also continue a string of wins over the Spartans after a home-and-away sweep in 2018-19.

Every success within the game would put a charge into what’s bound to be an enthusiastic crowd, as well.

But it’s easier said than done. IU has to step up to the challenge versus their “heavyweight” opponent and see how the punches land on the Spartans.

“We know that Michigan State is a good team, and 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,” Durham said. “So we’re going to lock in and stay focused and try and get this win.”

3 comments

  1. Frankly, I do not believe that Michigan State is very good this year. Cassius Winston is “over-rated” and their big men are not up to the level of Michigan State of the past. I’ve watched Izzo completely dismantle IU’s offense in the Crean years, but don’t think this is going to happen with a Miller-coached team. I foresee a huge win for the Hoosiers tonight with our newly discovered 3 point shooting showing that we are, as H4h predicted, a top-tier team and possibly, just possibly, Final 4 material. Go Big Red.

  2. It is time for the talking to end. Win two home games and go to 6-3 for the first half of the B1G season and feel great; or don’t and feel mediocre. Go IU!

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