FORT WAYNE – Indiana likely will not have to deal with Michigan State center Adreian Payne, but that doesnt make things any easier for the Hoosiers (12-6, 2-3 Big Ten) as they travel to play the No. 3 Spartans (17-1, 6-0) tonight.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told reporters Monday that Payne, who has missed the last three games after spraining his foot in a win over Ohio State on Jan. 7, is doubtful to play tonight.
But the Spartans, who beat the Hoosiers 73-56 on Jan. 4, still have plenty of weapons to throw at IU.
I just think Gary Harris is playing at an extremely high level, Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said during Mondays Big Ten teleconference. They have different players that are showing different things on different nights. Denzel Valentine might not have a great game one night, but then he turns back around and has a tremendous game. I think they are showing the product of the fact that they have a pretty good understanding of how they play.
Theyve got one of the most dependable, reliable guards in America in Keith Appling, who just continues to do so many good things. The X-factor for them, and we knew it in our game and we could see it coming and hes shooting just an incredible amount from the 3, is Kenny Kaminski. I mean three out of four of his shots are going in the basket from 3. Weve got a heck of challenge there when hes on the court.
Michigan State has won its last 10 games, and in the three games without Payne – who was averaging 16.2 points and 7.7 rebounds – the Spartans won each game by double figures.
Harris, Appling and Branden Dawson combined for 53 points in Michigan States win at IU. Harris averages 17.9 points, and Appling and Dawson average 16.1 and 10.1 points. But Izzo said it could be harder for those three tonight without Payne, who only had four points against the Hoosiers but opened things up on offense.
(IU) put an emphasis on (Payne), Izzo said. Now the pick-and-pops are better, the ball screens are better, because they have to cover them differently with him. Sometimes those guys had more freedom than maybe they will have this time around.
Izzo said he is also preparing his team for a better IU squad than the one that followed its 75-72 win over then-No. 3 Wisconsin with a 54-47 loss to Northwestern.
I thought the main difference was Yogi (Ferrell) didnt shoot it well, Izzo said. Hes been consistent all year. If he goes 2 for 14, thats like if Gary Harris goes 2 for 14. We are not going to be as good a team. Yogi (who averages 17.4 points) is playing at a whole different level than he was. He struggled one game. The problem is when you have youth and you have one veteran guard like that, hes got to play well for them to win.
I think they are getting more out of (Noah) Vonleh. (Austin) Etherington has definitely stepped up his game. (Stanford) Robinson is playing better. We dont look at it like we won down there, we are going to be able to win at home.