CARVER-HAWKEYE ARENA, IOWA CITY, IOWA (IOWA) (IOWA)
WEDNESDAY, 8:30 (ET)
TV: BTN (Eric Collins, Shon Morris) RADIO: WJR
Also, take a look at Dylan's excellent Iowa preview; Michigan played Iowa on Sunday.
First: in case you're wondering, the game will go forward in spite of snOMG; MSU made it to Cedar Rapids this morning and practiced at Carver-Hawkeye Arena this afternoon.
Anyway: it was not long ago that the trip to Iowa City was one Spartan fans dreaded. MSU lost at Carver-Hawkeye in 2006, 2007 and 2008 -- the '08 game being the notorious 43-36 disaster. But, Your Spartans have won with relative ease in Iowa City the past two seasons, so the place doesn't make me nearly as jittery as it did a few years ago.
Nonetheless, it's impossible to view this Iowa team through the prism of prior seasons, because the Hawkeyes of Fran McCaffery are vastly different than their predecessors of the Todd Lickliter era. McCaffery promised to crank up the pace, and that Iowa would return to the exciting, running basketball that was a trademark of Tom Davis's squads. And, he's delivered. Iowa's adjusted tempo is 69.2 -- the fastest pace in the Big Ten by a decent margin -- and at the very least, the product is more entertaining than anything Lickliter's dour play produced. (Yes -- pot, kettle, to some extent.)
But entertainment has had to suffice for Hawkeye fans this year, as the wins just haven't been there. Iowa is 8-13 overall and a brutal 1-8 in conference. The Hawkeyes nearly beat Ohio State in Carver-Hawkeye earlier this season, but that's pretty much been it; every other loss has been by at least 10 points. The one win was against the Big Ten's other cellar-dweller, Indiana -- though we're hardly entitled to be dismissive of that.
More, after the jump.
The reasons for the struggles are easy to find: they haven't been shooting the ball very well, and the defense is very poor. In conference play, the Hawkeyes are last in the conference in efficiency margin (-.17); they're the only conference team scoring less than a point per possession (.99) and they're second-to-last in defense (1.16 PPP). They rebound well (35.2 OR%), which is essential because they don't shoot the ball very well (48.7% eFG). The defense isn't great, but of concern is the fact that Iowa forces turnovers at a fairly strong rate (23.0%).
The bad news: MSU has burned and burned and burned by 3-point shooting over the past two weeks, and there's certainly the possibility that it could happen again. Matt Gatens is shooting 36% from 3, but puts up a ton of them (40-112 on the season); Eric May shoots fewer of them (23-49) but is deadly accurate (46.9%). Jarryd Cole will spend plenty of time banging with Delvon Roe -- he's 6'7", 250 -- but is only a middling contributor (6.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg). As for the others: Melsahn Besabe is wildly athletic and has played a large role in Iowa's successes this season. His offensive rating (104.5) is quite good for a freshman. Point guard Bryce Cartwright plays the second-most minutes on the Iowa team (29.6 mpg) and is extremely active: he takes 1 of every 4 Iowa shots when he's on the floor. But this isn't really a good thing, as he doesn't shoot the ball very well (41.9% eFG). As a whole, the Hawkeyes are a very poor free throw shooting team: 65.8% on the season; Gatens is excellent from the line (90.9%) and everyone else is highly meh.
This game presents an excellent opportunity for MSU to feed the post and get points in the paint. None of Iowa's regulars are taller than 6'7" and, unsurprisingly, they don't block many shots. It'll be key for MSU to avoid turning the ball over (of course) and to win the rebound battle (double of course). In most years, Tom Izzo wouldn't be scurred of playing Iowa's fast pace, but given MSU's very, very limited guard depth, it may behoove him to try and slow things down a bit.
Kenpom likes MSU to win 69-65 in a 69 possession game. Needless to say that MSU can't afford any more poor losses if they are to ensure a 14th straight NCAA Tournament appearance. A win here is especially important because the road gets utterly brutal after this one: at Wisconsin, home to Penn State, at Ohio State, home to Illinois, at Minnesota, and home to Purdue. It's discouraging having to talk about avoiding worst-case scenarios instead of rosy possibilities, but that's the fact of the matter for MSU. A convincing win would mean that State can go forward with some confidence; a loss, and the prospect of an NIT appearance wouldn't seem far-fetched at all.
Join us back here in the game thread tomorrow.