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Two sad teams enter, one leaves a winner

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t the way the year was supposed to go for Michigan State or Iowa. Well maybe it was, but at least to fans of each program this isn’t the way things were supposed to pan out.

And now here we are, both Michigan State and Iowa staring at 6-6 records in the conference, each team with little hope for making the tourney. Sparty got ran off the court against Michigan on Tuesday, thus giving it an extra day to prepare for Iowa. The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, beat Minnesota in regulation Wednesday night but were forced to play two overtimes anyway. Can Iowa’s legs keep up for the battle Saturday? These are Div-I athletes and they still had over two days rest so my answer is yes.

Get to know Sparty

This is just one of those rebuilding seasons for Tom Izzo, not unlike the process Iowa is undergoing right now. Michigan State starts three freshmen along with junior LouRawls Nairn and senior Eron Harris. Also like Iowa, the Spartans have been inconsistent this year while showing flashes of promise in their play.

The Spartans are led by Miles Bridges, who hasn’t scored below double-figures since Jan. 7. He’s averaging 17 a game during that span, and almost reeling in a double-double a night. The 6-7 guard is going to give Iowa’s guards some trouble, you better believe it. After Bridges there’s fellow freshman Nick Ward, who’s dropping 13 a night and pulling down 6 in the paint. I think Iowa’s bigs match up well against Ward, and see us eating below the hoop in this one.

And then there’s Harris, who sort of tries to do it all for Michigan State. His numbers have dipped since his sophomore season, but he’s still a very capable point guard who scores in double-figures every night, hits a couple 3’s and runs the offense. I’m excited to see what Jordan Bohannon can do against him.

Sparty isn’t anything special to the advanced stats either. KenPom has em at No. 58, with the No. 88 offense and a 52nd-ranked D. RPI has em at No. 50. There aren’t really any givens left on their schedule aside from Illinois and Ohio State. Michigan State fans might want to buy into their team being on the bubble, but I’m not going to perpetuate that fake news. Make no mistake, this is a very winnable game for Iowa, and would be a huge boost for our juniors to see what it’s like to get a win in Lansing.

What Iowa has to do to win

Really, despite the loss to Minnesota, I think we saw more good things than bad with this Iowa team against the Gilded Rodents. Obviously Peter Jok shooting unconscious in the second half helps, but the guard play from Isaiah Moss and Brady Ellingson along with Cordell Pemsl’s progression and Nicholas Baer’s Baery-ness spell good things for the future. Also, again, Iowa got jobbed against Minnesota.

It will be interesting to see how the short rest effects the Hawkeyes, but we know how deep this team so I’m not concerned by it. I think Izzo has a few tricks up his sleeve to discombobulate such a young team but I trust Fran to prepare these guys properly.

All that being said, it’s still Michigan State, and it’s still Iowa, and it’s still a Saturday night game in the Izzone, so nothing should surprise us, and we should watch this game with a fair amount of trepidation.

Prediction: Michigan State 75, Iowa 71