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Dispatches From Blogfrica: The Only Colors Talks Iowa-Michigan State Basketball

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The top spot in the Big Ten is on the line.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Matt from The Only Colors, SB Nation's fine blog for all things  Michigan State.

1) So the last time Iowa and Michigan State played, Iowa finally got the "can't beat MSU" monkey off their back -- and knocked the Spartans off their perch at #1. Iowa's also established some additional Big Ten contender bona fides by knocking off Purdue in West Lafayette. It's strange to think of a conference game in mid-January as being a big game... but this one seems to fit the bill. How big is this game?

MATT: Yes, it is a very big game even if it is this early in conference play. With Purdue and Maryland losing to Illinois and Michigan recently, currently Iowa and Michigan State are the only teams projected to go 14-4 in B1G play per KenPom (Indiana and Maryland at 13-5). If Iowa wins it takes a big lead over MSU and if MSU wins then the Spartans likely have a very slight edge due to an easier conference schedule. This game is probably bigger for MSU as they very likely will need this win if they want to win the regular-season title while Iowa will still be in good standing if they lose it.

2) Denzel Valentine missed the first Iowa-Michigan State game due to injury, which was a big deal since he was one of the National Player of the Year frontrunners before that injury. He made his return to the Spartans last weekend against Penn State -- how'd he look? What should Iowa fans expect from him on Thursday night?

MATT: Valentine came off the bench on Sunday but he will probably be replacing Eron Harris in the starting lineup this Thursday. Against Penn State he struggled in the first half shooting 0-5 from the field with a couple turnovers but he bounced back in the second half with 4-6 from the field with a 3 and a 2 with a foot on the line so he looked fine after the break. He may not be 100% but his game isn't reliant on his athleticism and his passing vision along with his jumper can give opposing teams trouble even if he's not beating his man off the dribble.

3) Bryn Forbes had a terrible game against Iowa -- just 3 points on 1/5 shooting. But he's been sensational in the other games he's played recently. What happened in the game against Iowa and what should Iowa fans be wary about from him on Thursday?

MATT: Bryn Forbes struggled that game mostly due to Anthony Clemmons' defense and sticking with Forbes coming off screens. Forbes' offense is reliant on using screens to get open and either shooting 3's if he's very open or driving for either a pull-up 2 or a floater if his man is trailing. Against Iowa, Clemmons did a great job of staying with Forbes and not allowing either option. Whether or not he gets going on offense is largely predicated on his defender. If Clemmons does the same thing, we'll have the same result but it might be a bit different with Valentine drawing more attention.

4) Jarrod Uthoff had one of his worst games of the season the last time Iowa played Michigan State (10 points on 4/11 shooting. 5 rebounds, 6 blocks, 8 turnovers, 4 fouls), but he's been tremendous in his other Big Ten games and has muscled his way into the Big Ten Player of the Year conversation. How will MSU look to defend him? Do you think we'll see Valentine and Uthoff, two top contenders for Player of the Year, matched up against one another much?

MATT: Yeah, Uthoff has been tremendous. He was underrated last year and going into this year but I'm not sure how many people expected him to be playing this well. MSU has recently been going with a bigger lineup with 6'9" Gavin Schilling at the power forward and while he's more of a big man than a perimeter player, he has very good lateral quickness that allows him to stick with a lot of small power forwards. I'd expect him to start with Matt Costello up front and then Deyonta Davis will swap with one of them and 6'6" Kenny Goins and 6'6" Marvin Clark will also be in the power forward rotation guarding Uthoff at times. Unfortunately I don't expect the Uthoff-Valentine matchup to happen much if at all as Valentine is usually guarding the opposing small forward and KenPom has Uthoff listed as a power forward in most Iowa lineups.

5) What do you expect Michigan State to do different defensively against Iowa in this game? MSU has one of the top defenses in the Big Ten (and the country), but Iowa torched them in Iowa City a few weeks ago behind great performances from Mike Gesell, Peter Jok, and Nicholas Baer. Will Izzo experiment with some different looks on defense?

MATT: MSU's defense almost definitely won't change schematically as zone defense is essentially nonexistent for Izzo. MSU's defensive gameplan is man-to-man, trying to force tough shots, and making sure to get the rebound. One area where MSU struggled a bit was defensive rebounding where Iowa got 35.3% of their own misses which was the third highest mark for an MSU opponent. Having Valentine back helps in that area as he's 6th in the B1G in defensive rebounding percentage as he almost selfishly tries to collect defensive rebounds in order to get the fast-break going. Also Valentine is one of our better perimeter defenders and should do a better job on Peter Jok who had 19 points and 4 assists in the first matchup.

6) We're both cool with pretending that the New Year's Six bowl games didn't happen this year, right? Right. Just checking.

MATT: I'm just going to pretend I don't know which games you're referring to.

7) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?

MATT: I'll go MSU 79 - Iowa 75

Thanks for being a good sport, Matt, but I still hope your team gets mollywhopped tomorrow night. You can check out the TOC crew at The Only Colors. You can also follow TOC on Twitter at @TheOnlyColors and Matt on Twitter at @McMathketball.The Iowa-Michigan State game is in East Lansing, MI on Thursday, January 14, and is scheduled to start at approximately 6:00 pm CT, with TV coverage from ESPN.