It’s been 10 years since Tom Izzo guided Michigan State to an outright Big Ten regular season championship with a coaching staff including then-assistant Tom Crean.
Having already secured a share of this season’s title, No. 8 Michigan State can claim it all for itself while trying to sweep the season series from Crean’s last-place Indiana team Tuesday night at Assembly Hall.
The Spartans (23-5, 13-3) won 74-66 at then-No. 11 Illinois on Sunday to earn a piece of the Big Ten title for the first time since sharing it with the Illini in 2000-2001.
Michigan State holds a two-game lead over No. 19 Purdue - which visits East Lansing to conclude the regular season Sunday - and needs to win one of its final two contests for its first outright league championship since 1998-99.
With the way the inexperienced Hoosiers (6-22, 1-15) have struggled in Crean’s first season as coach, that victory appears likely to come at the expense of Izzo’s good friend and former colleague.
Though Michigan State has lost four in a row at Indiana since a 67-62 overtime win there on Feb. 8, 2003, the Spartans rolled to a 75-47 home victory over the Hoosiers on Feb. 7. A storied program set back by NCAA sanctions and departures from the Kelvin Sampson era, Indiana has lost seven in a row and needs to be at its best to pull the upset.
“(The Spartans) execute at a very high level and there are some things that they do as well as anyone in the country,” said Crean, who spent five seasons at Michigan State before leaving to coach Marquette. “There is a `never say die,’ ‘never quit’ attitude to them.
The Spartans displayed some of that attitude against Illinois, holding off a late Illini charge by outscoring them 16-8 down the stretch.
“Defensively we were awfully good,” said Izzo, who clinched at least a share of his fifth league championship in 13 seasons at Michigan State. “So maybe my team is growing up a little bit.”
Kalin Lucas had 18 points and Raymar Morgan added 14 for the Spartans, who average a league-leading 72.9 points.
Lucas, who averages a team-best 14.6 points, bounced back after being held to four on 2-for-6 shooting in a 62-54 win over Iowa on Wednesday.
The sophomore guard had 10 points against Indiana last month, when the Spartans’ bench saw most of the action in the blowout. Freshman Draymond Green, who averages 2.3 points, had 15 and 12 rebounds against the Hoosiers.
Freshman Verdell Jones III had 13 points as Indiana shot 31.0 percent against the Spartans. Jones scored 16 in the Hoosiers’ 61-58 loss at Penn State on Saturday, and is averaging 13.4 in his last seven games - well above his 9.9 season average.
As Indiana looks to avoid a fourth straight home loss since beating Iowa 68-60 on Feb. 4 for its lone league victory, Crean believes the future is bright despite the program’s current dismal state.
“I hope it is the start of something special, I really do,” Crean said. “I believe that it is, I think that they (fans) believe that it is.”