EAST LANSING, MICH. (AP) - Tom Izzo put it best.
“It doesn’t get any better or bigger than this,” the Michigan State coach said.
Izzo’s fourth-ranked Spartans will host the No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers _ led by his former assistant and good friend, Tom Crean. Tuesday night’s game marks the first time two top-five teams have met at the Breslin Center.
It’s the third matchup of top-four teams in college basketball this season, and the second for Indiana, which beat then top-ranked Michigan. It’s just the fourth with a pair of Big Ten teams since 1997, according to STATS LLC.
First place in the Big Ten _ and perhaps top seeding in next month’s NCAA tournament _ will be at stake with four games remaining in the regular season after this matchup.
And to add to the hype, former Michigan State great Magic Johnson is scheduled to work the game as an ESPN analyst.
“What I’m going to preach to my guys is, these are opportunities that 99 percent of America never get to be a part of,” Izzo said.
“It’s another very big game and right now at Indiana, and I’m sure it’s this way at Michigan State, every game is a big game,” Crean said. “Not just because it’s a great league, but because of where you sit in the league and where you sit nationally.
“Our guys have played in quite a few of these types of games and we’ve been in some tough environments. There’s no question that the environments will be incredibly exciting.”
Crean would know, because he was on Izzo’s bench in East Lansing from the 1995-96 season _ Izzo’s first as a head coach _ through 1998-99, when the Spartans went to their first of three straight Final Fours.
“I don’t like doing it,” Izzo said. “They didn’t like doing it. But I thought John Harbaugh had a great line, `The only thing that could be worse than this is if one of us didn’t make it.’”
The Hoosiers were expected to be great _ ranked No. 1 in the preseason _ and they have been with center Cody Zeller, guard Victor Oladipo and forward Christian Watford leading the way. They’ve won three straight since losing by two points at Illinois and eight of their last nine games, including a closely contested victory over Michigan State last month.
“Indiana is playing at a level like no other,” Izzo said. “They’ve sustained it the whole year, which, to me, is one of the most impressive things you can do.”