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Hoosiers, Spartans battle for top spot

– Tom Crean said he’s used to the Tom Izzo that is “gloom and doom.”

But in the buildup to today’s top-15 showdown between Crean’s Hoosiers and Izzo’s Spartans, Crean has noticed his friend has a slightly different mindset.

“In reading some of the comments coming out of Michigan State, those guys are really excited to play,” Crean said Saturday. “That is nerve-wracking, when he is really looking forward to a game and says his team is in a great frame of mind. So we are really going to have to play well.”

Winners of six straight, No. 13 Michigan State (17-3, 6-1) has reason to be happy. So does No. 7 Indiana (17-2, 5-1) with first place in the Big Ten on the line at 1 p.m. today in Assembly Hall.

“They are the first-place team, and they are road tested,” Crean said of Michigan State, which won at Wisconsin on Tuesday. “They are clicking in a lot of really good ways. They have an experienced team. (Freshman) Gary Harris (12.3 points per game) has been phenomenal for them. Keith Appling (14.1 points, 4.3 assists) is a complete guard, in the sense that he can score, deliver the ball and he is a nightmare in transition. They are a pretty deep team, depending on how many guys he wants to play.

“There is no doubt that it is going to be a great environment, a tremendous atmosphere, and they are coming in with a great frame of mind, it appears. Our guys have had a very focused couple of days and they are excited to play.”

There are plenty of interesting matchups in the starting lineups, whether it’s the backcourt (Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo for IU against Harris, Appling and Branden Dawson for Michigan State) or the frontcourt (Cody Zeller and Christian Watford for IU against Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix for Michigan State).

“They are always a tough, physical team to play against,” Hulls said. “They are well-coached, and they play hard. So we know we have to do a lot of good things during the game like take care of the ball and get back in transition.”

Nix, who is 6-foot-9, and the 6-10 Payne are averaging 6.9 and 6.8 rebounds.

“It will definitely be a team effort on the offensive glass and defensive glass,” Watford said. “We feel like when we get five guys in there to rebound, we will be all right.”

Zeller – who is second in the Big Ten in rebounding (8.2) and is averaging 16.4 points – is a focal point for the Spartans.

“They are a very athletic team, and they have a couple of guys who can really knock down threes. But maybe the biggest challenge is Zeller,” Izzo said.

“He runs like a deer, he runs like a guard. He can put the ball on the floor, and he’s very good with his post moves even though he’s not always in the post.

“He’s just a load to cover because the multidimensional parts of his game.”

lpope@jg.net

Indiana

vs. Michigan State
When: 1 p.m. today
TV: CBS
Radio: 1250 AM, 102.7 FM

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