With two Michigan State Spartans most likely sidelined with injuries, the Iowa men’s basketball team has no excuses for Tuesday night’s home game.
If the Hawkeyes still hope to win a Big Ten Conference title this season, they must win all of their home games, and that means knocking off the sixth-ranked and short-handed Spartans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The game will be a part of ESPN’s Super Tuesday coverage with tip-off coming at 6 p.m. Iowa looks to stay unbeaten at home this year and extend the home victory streak to 21 wins overall, while Michigan State will try to remain unbeaten on the road.
“I think from a consistency standpoint, they're a program that I think every coach in this league understands if you're going to win a championship, you've got to go through Michigan State,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “That’s plain and simple.”
The Hawkeyes defeated the Spartans in McCaffery’s first try as Iowa head coach, but Iowa has not won since. McCaffery is 1-6 overall against Michigan State, but several of those games came to the final possession.
The Hawkeyes are 34-22 against the Spartans all-time, but Michigan State has won 11 of 12 in the series and six straight. Both wins last year over Iowa were by three points.
“We obviously respect them tremendously, and hopefully the next time you play them, you do a little bit better learning from what you did or didn't do the last time,” said McCaffery.
Michigan State will play Tuesday’s game without its leading rebounder in Branden Dawson and forward Adreian Payne is doubtful with a sprained foot.
Dawson grabs a team-best 8.7 boards per game but broke his hand after punching a desk during a film session. Dawson also has a team-high five double-doubles but will miss 4-6 weeks. Payne is one of the team’s best overall players, averaging 16.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game but was listed as doubtful Monday for Tuesday’s showdown. Payne has missed the team’s last five games.
That doesn’t mean the Spartans don’t have other offensive weapons.
Gary Harris leads the Big Ten in scoring at 18.8 points per game and Keith Appling is second in the league in assists per game. Harris is coming off a 27-point performance in the Spartans’ loss to Michigan on Saturday, and Matt Costello nearly had a double-double in that game, which was Michigan State’s first Big Ten loss of the year.
“Well, obviously, they're two of the better players in our league,” McCaffery said of Payne and Dawson. “Forget about two of the better players on that team. So it's going to impact them, there's no question.
“And what it does and what I've seen is Appling and Harris have really taken their games to another level, and that's been impressive and not unexpected. But the other thing is what I think Tom has done is really expanded his bench. So now they've had so many injuries, those guys are ready to play. It's not like they got hurt yesterday and they're not going to play today.”
Iowa will have two of its better players for the game. But if the Hawkeyes want to win, Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White cannot have lackluster first halves against the Spartans. Turning it on in the second half will be too late against a team as talented as a team coached by Tom Izzo, who is 26-9 all-time against Iowa.
“We are going to have to take care of the ball,” said White, who is averaging 13.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. “(MSU) averages 37 percent of their points off turnovers so we have to protect it. We need to take good shots, too.”
The Spartans are the gold standard in the Big Ten Conference. They are the team everyone else in the league wants to be like. And who every team in the league knows it is going to have to beat to have a shot at a Big Ten title.
Mike Gesell, who has been in double-figures for Iowa in the last two games, knows that Tuesday’s challenge won’t be easy. He also knows that the Hawkeyes can’t be intimidated by the all-mighty Spartans.
“This is the type of team you want to play,” said Gesell, who had a crucial turnover late in last year’s close home loss to MSU. “They are always one of the best teams in the league and Izzo is one of the best coaches all time. They have been there and done that. But at the same time, you can’t be intimidated by them.
“I knew I would get this kind of opportunity when I came to Iowa. This game will be fun.”
Iowa’s depth could come into play again on Tuesday night, especially with the Spartans fighting through those aforementioned injuries to some key players.
McCaffery will go at least 10 deep and most of them played significant minutes against the Spartans last season when the Hawkeyes lost two games by three points each.
“I have great respect for them, great respect for Franny and the job he’s done,” Izzo said. “And they’ve done it the right way. They’re built it. They’ve stayed the course. They suffered some tough losses over a couple of years, but now he’s got a veteran team that plays the way he wants to play, with his intensity, and they play hard and they play quick. Hopefully we’re going to be up to the task.”
Tuesday’s game will be the team’s sixth sell-out of the season. It also is the “Black & Gold Spirit” game. Fans are encouraged to wear either black or gold depending on the section they sit in.
Iowa’s fast start
The Hawkeyes have started the Big Ten season 5-2. The program has done that 12 times in its history and the previous 11 teams have made the NCAA Tournament. Iowa also is 16-4 for the first time since 2000-01.
White rarely misses
As Iowa’s second leading scorer, White is shooting 63 percent from the floor and 84 percent from the line, which ranks first and fifth, respectively, in the Big Ten.
Scoring 80 and not giving up 60
The Hawkeyes, over the last four seasons, are 30-4 when scoring at least 80 points and 39-1 when holding their opponents to 60 or less. The only time Iowa held an opponent to less than 61 points and lost was last year against the Spartans at the Big Ten Tournament.
Iowa’s bench has been key to successes and failures
When Iowa’s bench is producing, the Hawkeyes are tough to beat. When the bench struggles, Iowa has to scratch and claw just to have a chance to win. Iowa’s reserves, overall, are averaging 34.7 points and 21 rebounds per game. In the 16 wins, those numbers grow to 38.7 points and 22.7 rebounds. But in the four losses, the numbers shrink to 18.8 points and 14.3 rebounds.
That is why guys like Jarrod Uthoff, Josh Oglesby, Gabe Olaseni and Zach McCabe will be key if Iowa wants to beat Michigan State. Of the four, Uthoff is the one that could use a big game Tuesday.
“The beauty of it is we can absorb a couple of those guys having an off day and still have six or seven, sometimes eight other guys playing really well,” McCaffery said.
Clemmons will see a familiar face
Anthony Clemmons and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine were teammates at Sexton High School in East Lansing, Mich. The duo helped lead the program to three straight conference titles and back-to-back Class B state titles and Valentine’s dad was Clemmons’ high school coach.
The return of Oglesby has taken minutes away from Clemmons this season. But McCaffery is not ready to just stop calling his name. And the Michigan native needs to be ready.
“We've just got to continue to encourage him to play up to his capabilities and be ready when his name is called,” said McCaffery.