The Iowa Hawkeyes (12-13, 3-9) are set to face the Michigan State Spartans (22-3, 10-2) after another poor road performance. Any bump Iowa is hoping to get from returning to the friendly confines of Carver-Hawkeye Arena is immediately wiped out by the imposing Spartans defense. It’s further diminished by Jordan Bohannon’s health, as he has yet to recover from the illness which kept him on the bench during the second half against Penn State.
Michigan State is led by an beefy frontline of Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, and Jaren Jackson Jr. Headlined by the freshman phenom’s 3.5 blocks per game, the Spartan’s lead the country at 8.1 blocks per game and are nearly 40 ahead of second in the country by raw total. Tom Izzo leverages the blocking prowess into a nation-leading 2-point shooting percentage of 37.0%, per KenPom.
Despite the heft down low, this is Tom Izzo’s worst team since the 2007-2008 in terms of defensive rebounding. Their opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage of 28.0% is the highest it’s been in 10 years and the lowest ranked (132 in the country) of any season since 2002. Michigan State continues their trend of not turning teams over and opponents average only 11.2 turnovers (on 6.5 steals) per game.
Offensively, the group mentioned above impose their will down low. Bridges, Ward, and Jackson all shoot above 55% from 2 and Ward is shooting a mind-boggling 68.9%. Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford round out Izzo’s starting lineup - they’ve used the same one all but two games early in the season. Winston leads the country in 3-point shooting percentage at 53.1%, which makes Langford’s 42.2% look weak by comparison.
If there’s one bugaboo where Iowa can take advantage, it’s turnovers. The Spartans average 14.1 per game with Winston, Bridges, and Jackson all averaging over 2 a game.
For Iowa to beat as talented a squad as Michigan State, a lot needs to happen.
Three-point shooting: Iowa isn’t going to win this game if they go 1-10 from deep again. Jordan Bohannon ’s health is going to dictate much of Iowa’s offensive capabilities, as he is the most confident shooter on this team. With him less than 100%, however, Isaiah Moss needs to have a performance in line with the one he had against Maryland. His 26 points on 10/16 shooting kept Iowa in that game as long as could be expected before Tyler Cook’s foul out.
If Luka Garza is able to hit an early three or two, it’ll open Iowa’s offense up that much more as it’ll bring MSU’s rim protectors away from the basket. Should Nick Ward match up with Tyler Cook, Cook may have the speed advantage on the block, as well.
Capitalize on turnovers: Michigan State is highly likely to turn the ball. Though they’re not quite as young as Iowa, their reliance on sophomores and the freshman Jackson has them giving up possessions at a high rate. Winston is the main offender on the season and might have some difficulty if anyone can stay in front of him on defense.
Last year’s matchup saw Christian Williams excel with his length on defense is someone able to step into that void? Now is as good a time as any.
Force the issue: Iowa cannot be laid back against Michigan State. Tom Izzo will have his team ready for a street fight and the Hawkeyes need to match that energy. Can they hit the boards on offense? Maybe force a Spartan post or two to the bench with foul trouble? Can they hold their ground against the Ward and Langford down low?
Iowa’s resolve has been tested many times before and they’ve failed. None of those teams - even a sweet-shooting Purdue - have posed the same type of challenge as Michigan State will tonight.
However unlikely, a win tonight would provide another glimmer of hope amidst a lost season.