What if Tom Crean brings this team to the NCAA tournament? What if he can produce this effort beyond the walls of Assembly Hall?
Indiana roughed up the Big Ten’s bully, Michigan State, on Tuesday night during a 70-55 victory in the noteworthy venue.
The Hoosiers topped the Buckeyes at Assembly Hall on New Year’s Eve. And No. 1 Kentucky took a loss there in December, the only blemish on its résumé.
Hoosiers. Assembly Hall. Special.
This Indiana team has defeated three top-five squads at home this season, the third team to accomplish that feat over the past 10 years. The last Indiana team that equaled that achievement was the 1975-76 edition that went undefeated.
Since that Dec. 31 victory over the Buckeyes, however, the Hoosiers have vacillated between potency and perplexity. The latter often involved a road trip.
Crean’s squad finished with a 3-6 mark in Big Ten road games this season. Since the start of the Big Ten season, Indiana has been a different team outside Assembly Hall.
Against the Spartans on Tuesday, the Hoosiers once again confirmed they’re talented enough to contend with any team in America. They beat Michigan State, even though Big Ten player of the year favorite Draymond Green scored 29 points and went 10-for-17 from the floor. The rest of his team, however, shot 10-for-34.
Indiana forced 13 Michigan State turnovers and shot 48 percent from the field. In the victories over Kentucky, Ohio State and Michigan State at Assembly Hall, it forced 46 turnovers combined. It hit 45 percent of its shots (75-for-165 combined in three games). And never backed down.
But that’s not the team Crean has taken on the road this season.
The Road Hoosiers struggled at Penn State. They lost at Nebraska. They scored 50 points at Wisconsin, 56 points at Michigan. And after beating Iowa 103-89 on Jan. 29, the Road Hoosiers suffered a 78-66 loss against the Hawkeyes in Iowa City on Feb. 19.
With a victory, Michigan State had a chance to win the Big Ten title outright and continue on its path toward a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
But Cody Zeller (18 points) & Co. (four Indiana teammates also recorded double figures) stopped that momentum.
It was another impressive victory for the Hoosiers. But I’m still not convinced their Assembly Hall magic will be duplicated on neutral floors in March.
If Crean, however, can get this team to play with the same fire it’s had at Assembly Hall this season once the NCAA tournament begins, Indiana will be one of the most dangerous teams in the field.
That’s if ...
What if Draymond Green has to do it alone? What if his supporting cast abandons him again?
Green looked like the undisputed Big Ten player of the year Tuesday in defeat. He scored 16 points in the first half, and finished with 29 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals and 6 turnovers.
His overall effort was impressive as usual. But where was everyone else?
Green was the only Michigan State player to hit double figures.
At times, he forced shots. Not surprising, because he didn’t have a reliable sidekick when he needed one.
Green cannot do this alone.
Yes, Tom Izzo’s team has Final Four potential. No, it won’t reach New Orleans unless it gets consistent contributions from the players surrounding Green.
That won’t cut it in March. The Spartans know that.
When they beat Ohio State on Feb. 11 in Columbus, Appling, Green and Adreian Payne all recorded double figures. When they defeated Wisconsin in East Lansing, Mich., five days later, Green and Appling recorded 20 points apiece and Nix added 12.
Appling has been the No. 2 guy for the bulk of the season, but he’s recorded single digits in three of his past four games. Dawson has the talent to be THE GUY in March. Nix and Wood have the prerequisite experience.
It just has to be someone.
If Tuesday’s game proved anything, it’s that Michigan State is a team that won’t function well in March if Green alone excels.
It’s not time to make brash assessments of Michigan State based on one game. This is a very solid team. And let me repeat, I think the Spartans have the goods to reach New Orleans.
But I know they won’t get there with the kind of imbalanced effort they produced against Indiana.
Green will need help in the NCAA tournament. And he will need it every night.