What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of a blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Next up: Chris from The Only Colors, SB Nation's excellent blog for all things Sparty.
1) It seems weird to be talking about "must win" league games in the second week of January, but you did so here and I did so here, so it's clear that we're operating on similar wavelengths. Given the quality of the Big Ten this year, wins figure to be precious. Can you make a brief argument for why Michigan State needs this win more than Iowa?
I don't know if I can say MSU needs it more than Iowa. I'd venture both teams need it equally. MSU needs it if it wants to win the Big Ten, while I imagine Iowa needs this if it wants to have a case for the NCAA Tournament. This is the second of a four-game stretch that has to be four wins for MSU if it wants to win the Big Ten. After that is a gauntlet that includes six of 11 games on the road, while the five home games are Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota. So this is No. 2 in what has to be a four-game winning streak for MSU to have a chance.
2) I have to confess, I haven't seen a lot of Michigan State so far this season. I know the likes of Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green are (finally) gone from East Lansing -- who's stepped up to replace them? Keith Appling and Gary Harris? Has Michigan State's identity changed at all, or is this a standard Izzo team: physical, hard-nosed, and accustomed to playing stifling defense?
It's the same basic idea: Really good defense and rebounding. But the offense is very sporadic. They turn the ball over a ton (22.4 percent), but are actually quite efficient when they don't. The biggest problem is a lack of consistent scoring threats. It was supposed to be Keith Appling, but he's had a few low-scoring games. Branden Dawson
disappears at time due to inconsistent effort. Derrick Nix
has gotten more assertive, but after a big game against Texas, he's back to missing a ton of bunnies. Freshman Gary Harris might be the most consistent scorer of the bunch. He's got incredible athletic ability to drive and finish, but also hit six three-pointers against Purdue. But he's dealing with injuries to both shoulders. It's a team that has the talent, but the lack of a go-to guy has created some problems.
3) How worried are you about the Spartan road show? All three of your losses this year have come away from East Lansing (against UConn on a neutral court in Germany, away to Miami, and away to Minnesota) and you've also struggled a bit at Bowling Green and in a neutral-site win over Kansas (although the fact that Kansas is also a good team is a not-insignificant factor there, too). Have there been any common denominators in MSU's road woes? Are you concerned about the environment inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena?
I am. That place has caused MSU all sorts of problems, recently. From that ugly game in 2008 to the blowout in 2011, it can get really frustrating. I'm not worried about it affecting MSU as much as it affects Iowa. MSU answered a number of runs by Minnesota last week, but the Gophers had the energy at the end and turned it into a blowout. If MSU gets up big early and can try to keep the crowd out of it, that would be huge.
4) If things are tied after regulation, I vote that we eschew overtime for a bare-knuckle boxing match between Branden Dawsen and Zach McCabe to settle things. What say you?
I'm sure Izzo would be down with that.
5) Michigan State still appears to be a very good team, but this year they don't look quite like the top-tier Big Ten outfit they've been for the past several seasons. Is that fair or unfair? Do you think they can compete with the likes of Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota for a Big Ten title, or are they realistically competing to be the "best of the rest" in the league? What sort of ceiling does this team have?
I think the ceiling is high, but the problem is they've been so inconsistent. In the Big Ten, I think anyone can hang with anyone at home, but Michigan certainly is a step ahead of everyone right now (even if many MSU fans don't want to admit it). Outside of that, Indiana is still questionable on the road, and I think MSU is as good as the rest. The Spartans certainly can win a Big Ten championship this year, but they have to level things off at a high level. Right now, that's very questionable.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
I'm going to go with a four-point win by MSU, but certainly wouldn't be surprised by a loss.
Thanks for being a good sport, Chris. You can check out Chris and the rest of the TOC crew at The Only Colors. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVannini and The Only Colors at @TheOnlyColors. The Iowa-Michigan State game is in East Lansing on Thursday, January 10 at 6:00pm CT, with television coverage from ESPN.