The Iowa Hawkeyes (18-8, 8-7) have gone 1-1 in the first two games of a three games-in-six day stretch with the Michigan State Spartans (18-8, 9-6). A win against Sparty still keeps that backdoor open for the Hawks’ quest for the double bye while a loss would end it.
Michigan State remains Michigan State, though, they’re going through a bit of a rough patch of four losses in five games. Tom Izzo’s was especially curmudgeonly in his postgame press conference, calling out the refs and his point guards. KenPom had them 22 coming into the season and they sit at 27, a season low (high?), peaking three times at 17.
They had the typical MSU non-conference schedule and lost to the two best teams they faced - Kansas & Baylor. They swept otherwise. Yet Big Ten play has proven rough, with losses to Northwestern, Rutgers, and Penn State. Their best win is probably their 12-point victory at Wisconsin. Five of their conference losses have come by eight points or less, so they’re probably make things tricky if Iowa’s got a lead down the stretch.
G: AJ Hoggard (So, 6’4”, 210 lbs) - 6.7 PPG, 5.1 APG, 2.2 TOPG, 42% FG%, 19.9 MPG
G: Max Christie (Fr, 6’6”, 190 lbs) - 9.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 39% FG%, 31.5 MPG
F: Gabe Brown (Sr, 6’8”, 215 lbs) - 11.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 41% FG%, 28.9 MPG
F: Joey Hauser (RS Sr, 6’9”, 230 lbs) - 7.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.8 ORPG, 43% FG%, 40% 3P%, 22.0 MPG
F: Marcus Bingham (Sr, 7’0”, 230 lbs) - 9.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.4 ORPG, 2.4 BPG, 55% FG%, 38% 3P%, 19.2 PPG
The first thing that sticks out in looking up and down MSU’s collective box score is the scoring. Nobody over 12 and just Gabe Brown in double digits. Just four guys have posted 20 or more points in a game this season: Tyson Walker (26, Saturday v Illinois), Malik Hall (24 v Loyola), Max Christie (21 v Nebraska), and Brown 3 times.
Naturally, be prepared for someone not listed to top that mark later tonight.
They’re also stupid big. Only backup PG, Tyson Walker, is shorter than 6’4”. Their average height, per KenPom, is 78.6”, 11th in the country. While they don’t use that advantage in the classic “lock down the boards” sense, they lead the conference in three-point defense (30.4%) and are second in block percentage (13.5%).
The Spartans are also second best in the conference behind the arc, shooting 38.2% from three. Walker (57%) and super-sub-who-may-be-injured Malik Hall (51%) lead the way there, though they don’t shoot that many of them. They’re also a blistering 80.4% from the line in conference play. No wonder Izzo hates when they don’t get calls. It’s their best possession.
Yet they have their faults. They turn it over 20.2% of the time, good for 13.8 per game, so the concerns Izzo has there is well-founded. They share the ball, though, with 15.9 assists/game, which is good for 61.6% of their field goals.
How does this game get called?
After the Michigan/Wisconsin aftermath, the conference is a little squirrely from a refereeing perspective. EJ Liddell & Xavier Johnson were given double technicals after getting tied up in overtime last night. Not sure it was the right call, but shows the officials are on high alert.
Izzo’s comments postgame also has the BHGP slack on incredibly high alert for Fran’s two foul jail. Iowa’s in more trouble there than the Spartans are, given McCaffery’s propensity to sit a Murray or two if they’re in first half foul trouble. Filip Rebraca & Tony Perkins are also starters who foul more than 4 times in 40 minutes. Sub Julius Marble is the only Spartan over that mark. It turns into a foul fest, advantage MSU due to depth and the aforementioned free throw shooting. Iowa’s seen their percentage from the stripe dip in conference play - 70.1% right now.
Can Iowa’s defense keep it up?
Though the Hawkeyes allowed a shade over the 1 point/possession threshold against Ohio State, they allowed just 24 second half points and forced 14 Buckeye turnovers (23%).
I’d say it was exceptional but really, it was par for the course with this iteration of the Hawkeyes. They lead the conference in forcing opponent turnovers (20% turnover rate) with over half of them coming from live ball steals. Considering it’s a weakness for the Spartans, Iowa has a clear advantage here behind the Murrays, and Joe Toussaint.
Yet MSU has typically bullied Iowa on the offensive glass and this Hawkeye bunch have struggled there, yielding boards on 32.4% of opponent misses in conference play, which brings up the rear. Defense includes ending possessions and Iowa can’t falter there.
How does Iowa manage the emotions of the banner raising?
Luka Garza will return tonight to see his number retired. A well-deserved honor and one Iowa has combined with three other jersey retirements, most notably Roy Marble’s. Carver should absolutely be rocking* as many of his former teammates look to honor the evening with a win.
*please, please, please let it be a packed (or at least loud) house
With that may come some amped energy from the Hawks. We’ve seen them start slow time and again this season, most recently Saturday before Keegan went on a personal 10-0 run to close an early double-digit lead to one, and the desire to impress those in attendance could add some pressure to the moment.
Yet the Hawkeyes should probably play about as loose as possible, knowing they did what they needed to with this stretch and that tonight is house money. MSU is the tight one. They’re the team that needs a win to right the ship.
Though a loss would turn Iowa back into a .500 ballclub, they got the much needed resume win on Saturday. Tonight is another opportunity to add to it. Considering how good it felt three days ago, let’s do it again and keep this February Fade at bay.