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FRAN SPEAKS: Michigan State

Can the Hawkeyes avenge their worst loss of the season at home against the Spartans?

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a big game happening in Carver-Hawkeye Arena tonight. The Michigan State Spartans are in town, touting an undefeated record. Their opponent? A scoring-hot Iowa Hawkeye squad that has won five conference matchups in a row. Confidence has grown in the program over those wins, and this will be an extremely difficult test, especially after the beatdown they suffered in East Lansing last month.

Ahead of that game, Fran McCaffery met with the media yesterday afternoon to discuss his team and the matchup. Check out the full transcript here.

Q. Michigan State the way they play, the transition game and so forth, break it down, in a nut shell, what makes them particularly good at what they do in those regards?

FRAN McCAFFERY: They run on both makes and misses. A lot of times it’s off your bad shots and turnovers. That’s when they’re particularly effective. But they will score right on top of your baskets.

It’s nothing complicated other than everybody runs as hard as they can every time and they push it hard every time, and they’re committed to it. So it’s a credit to coach Izzo and to the players to consistently do that. Ward and Winston are especially good.

So it starts when you have a really good post player and a really good point guard. But their wings are flying, then they go into motion or call a set. But you’ve got to get back or they’re going to get easy baskets, plain and simple.

And the last time Iowa played MSU, they struggled with all of that. It’s nice to see Fran recognize this, and hopefully, Iowa can adjust to that speed. The Penn State game in particular was a scoring game of transition basketball on both ends of the floor, and the Illinois game was just a scorching scoring performance. This is a different team, in a different environment, in a whole new ballgame, and Fran was asked as such:

Q. What’s different in your team from then to now?

FRAN McCAFFERY: We’re just further along in the process, that’s all. You’ve got opportunities for Joe Wieskamp to grow, Connor to grow in particular. They’re the new guys. But even Luka, he went through a stretch where he was hurt. But the more experience he gets, the better he gets. I think you’ve seen Isaiah continue to grow as a player. In this stretch, he’s really taken his game to another level.

Neither Joe Wieskamp or Luka Garza scored in double-digits when these teams met last month. Nearly two months later, they’re Iowa’s go-to scorers all around the floor. It’s a different style for Iowa, and hopefully it creates a different defensive plan for the Spartans.

Speaking of Wieskamp...

Q. Have you ever had a freshman as well-rounded as Joe?

FRAN McCAFFERY: They’re rare. ... Since I’ve been here, [he’s] probably the most polished of any freshman, Marble was great, but he was a skinny freshman, Aaron White, same thing. I didn’t have Uthoff as a freshman ...

But [Joe’s] complete skill set and his ability to impact the game, I always say in various locations on the floor. He might blow a game open with his 3-point shot. It might be drives to the basket. Get and-ones, we post him up. He gives you tough baskets, but he also can move his feet laterally and defend. He rebounds. He rebounds in traffic. He has a keen understanding of time and score and what we need and what we don’t need.

...So I think the thing with him is he’s probably going to keep getting better because he’s a worker and he’s really smart. So it will be fun to watch.

When JPinIC started writing about Joe Wieskamp last year, I had to temper my excitement, because it’s pretty common to see guys who score in buckets their senior year of high school and struggle to adjust to the pace of the college game. But Wieskamp hasn’t had that issue. Fran is right that he’ll keep getting better. I’m excited as hell to watch, because Wieskamp is quickly becoming one of my favorite players on this squad along with Garza.

Q. I can’t remember [Michigan State] having a mediocre team to look back on. But this one seems to be unique. You look statistically in almost every category they are at or near the top of the list. Is it just every single player playing the position the right way?

FRAN McCAFFERY: I think a lot of times you look at a team like this and say, well, they lost two guys that went in the top 10. They’re going to drop. But Xavier Tillman is really good ... and the key is he’s willing to come off the bench for them.

...They [get] complete buy-in on whoever they have. Nobody really recruited Goins. Seems like he gets 15 rebounds every night. So they understand what they can do, and they actually get it to perfection. There is no slippage, no excuses, and you either do it or you don’t play.

This is a really great explanation of Izzo’s success with Sparty. Not only do they get buy-in from their players, but they adjust their gameplans to the talent of the athletes they have. It’s something we’re starting to see Fran do with this year’s squad as well, and it’s working in conference play.

Q. Anybody have a sprained ankle in practice?

FRAN McCAFFERY: That’s probably a good question. Thankfully, no.

Did I miss an injury report or something?