Fantasy College Basketball Game of the Week: Indiana at Michigan State
By this time in the college basketball season, I usually know which team I am going to pick in the NCAA tournament. I don't worry about match ups, I just pick the best team. Last year and in 2010, I thought it was Kentucky and I was right half of the time. Two years ago, I was on the Ohio State bandwagon. This year, I am not decided. It is a good sign of parity that I have not settled on a team, but I am gathering my shortlist. Right now, I am leaning toward either Kansas or Indiana. In fact, I think that a game between those two teams would make for a great final. Despite losing last night, Florida is still in the running. The things that these three teams have in common are diversified scoring and excellent defense. They are all being tested this week. On Tuesday, the Gators flunked their midterm against Missouri, but Indiana submitted one of the better wins of the season at Michigan State. Kansas will be tested on Wednesday at Stillwater against Oklahoma State.
All of the games I tried to watch over the weekend ended up being dull blowouts. Blowouts aren't always dull (in fact, I enjoy garbage time to see the ends of the benches), but I'd rather watch and write about a game that is close throughout. The Indiana-Michigan State game qualified as close throughout and I was able to get a close look at Cody Zeller. At the beginning of the season, I wrote that Zeller was being overrated. The seven-footer was being hailed as the next big thing in college basketball. However, anyone who saw him play as a freshman knew that he was already plenty good, but not likely to get that much better. Because his minutes have stayed the same in his two years, Zeller's production has been level. There is nothing wrong with 16.6 points on 58.8 percent from the field and 8.1 rebounds, but these are not out-of-this-world fantasy stats. He is an excellent team player and has a nice mid-range jumper, but it is hard to imagine as better than a fringe starter in the NBA. I wouldn't be shocked if he returned to school, even though he is a likely lottery pick (which makes that decision silly in my mind). Zeller may not even be the best player or prospect on his team.
That player, of course, is Victor Odalipo, who had a sensational game in the win at East Lansing. I have long thought that Odalipo was a legitimate pro prospect and he is a submitting an unbelievably great shooting season. Through last night's game, the 6-4 guard is making 63.9 percent of his field goals and 51.1 percent from long range. He is not a volume shooter, but his offense is catching up with his remarkable defense. Odalipo had five steals against the Spartans and leads the Big 10 with 2.4 steals per game. Coming in, I knew the Spartans were defensive minded, but I was even more impressed by the Hoosier perimeter defense. Led by Odalipo, Indiana stifled Michigan State penetration and caused Keith Appling to have another terrible shooting game. In two games against the Hoosiers, Appling was just 2-of-12 from the field and had a combined nine points. Throughout much of the game, it seemed as if every time the Spartans made a run, a Hoosier would hit a 3-pointer. Jordan Hulls hit four bombs and Christian Watford hit another pair.
Three-point defense is largely a myth and the Spartans had plenty of good looks at 3-pointers, but they were unable to put them down. Appling was 0-of-4 and freshman Gary Harris was just 1-of-5 on threes, although Harris did finish with a team-high 19 points. The 6-4 first-year player seems like the best bet to succeed at the next level on Michigan State. Another freshman to keep an eye on is Denzel Valentine, who is a 6-5 passer/defender. The most remarkable thing about the Spartans (to me, at least) was the development of their big men, Adriean Payne and Derrick Nix. Payne, a 6-10 power forward, has added a 3-point shot to his arsenal and had his best game from long range on Tuesday. He went 3-of-3 from beyond the arc and finished with 17 points. Payne also has some ball handling skills. He has come a long way from the little used freshman two years ago. Nix, at 290 pounds, is not just a big body. He had scored 14.7 points in his previous three games, but was held to eight points against Indiana. When Michigan State needed a basket in the closing minutes, they dumped the ball into the post to Nix. He came through with a pair of baskets in the last three minutes to give Sparty a brief three-point lead. The power of Nix and Payne is going to make Michigan State a tough out (per their usual) in the Big Dance.