The Iowa Hawkeyes (12-13, 3-9) are set to face a top five team in the country in the Michigan State Spartans (22-3, 10-2) tonight. Michigan State’s only losses are to Duke, Ohio State, and Michigan, but they’ve allowed some teams to keep it close. Could Iowa be one of those teams? To learn how the other side lives, we asked McLain Moberg of The Only Colors to answer some of our questions.
1) Much was made about Miles Bridges’s decision to return for his sophomore campaign - how has he adjusted to doing more work on the perimeter than last year?
Miles has done a fine job adjusting to being on the perimeter more but there are some discrepancies. Through 28 games in 2016 he took 144 three pointers and made 38.9% of them. This season he’s already shot 136 of them (24 games) and is down to 36.8%. I’ve never thought he was especially good from the outside and often wondered why he just doesn’t pull up from mid-range, or for that matter get to the hole. When he performs the latter he shoots 56.4% and when gets the whistle to blow he’s hitting 90.1% of his free throws. All around Bridges is still a very dynamic player. He can score from anywhere, pass, rebound, block, and defend. In my opinion, this season isn’t about him adjusting to perimeter life. It’s about him coming into his own and figuring out how to lead this team to a national championship.
2) Michigan State does an amazing job of defending the paint and lead the nations in blocks. What does Tom Izzo have them doing on defense which is working so well?
Tom Izzo is an amazing coach. One of the best. For as long as I can remember he wants to emphasize defense and rebounding. Those are two things with which he builds his program. Throughout the years he’s been extremely successful, providing the right strategies, and game plans. The biggest difference this year is his personnel. Never has he had the combined forces of Jaren Jackson Jr, Nick Ward, and Miles Bridges. The Spartans have 204 blocks with an average of 8.2 per game. The names I mentioned have accounted for 152 of them. The answer to your question is real simple, put those guys in the middle and no one is getting through.
3) Freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. was the highest rated recruit during Tom Izzo’s tenure. How has he lived up to the star rating?
Oh Jaren Jackson has done more than live up to the hype. He is the kind of star power that needs to be experienced in person. Watching him on television doesn’t compare to being at the Breslin Center. Spartan fans better enjoy him now because I think he enters the draft following his freshman year. His skill set and size are unmatched. At 6’11 he shoots 52.2% from the field, 43.3% from deep, and 78.8% at the line. Not to mention his 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game. He really is the highest rated recruit Izzo has ever had and rightfully so.
4) Overall, how has this season lived up to the high expectations coming in? How realistic are conference and national title hopes?
Well once Miles Bridges said he was coming back the Spartans were one of the heavy favorites to win it all. They started the year off very strong, losing only once to then ranked #1 Duke by seven points. After that they won 14 games straight where they scored over 100 points four times in a row. Then the Spartans went on the road to Buckeye country. The next three games (including that one) would feature what probably should have been three losses but they managed to squeak by Rutgers in overtime. So they escaped with double digit losses to Ohio State and Michigan. For two weeks MSU looked lost, uninterested and bad.
Currently, the Spartans look like they did back in November and most of December. A streak of six games is in the works and of course they want to extend it against Iowa. A conference title? I’m not sure, MSU is two games back of first place. Putting them in the “teams that need to win out” category. Purdue is still on the schedule (a must win) and Ohio State still has the tiebreaker on the Spartans so they probably have to lose at least one more time to make it possible. It’s doable but difficult. At this point I think a national title is more realistic and it’s something that is still very much within their grasp.
5) Lastly, who ya got?
Playing on the road is never easy, especially in the Big Ten. It’ll be a grind, the Spartans will probably turn the ball over more than usual but at the end of the day it isn’t close. Michigan State takes care of business in a game that features a competitive first half but nothing more. MSU 79, Iowa 60.