Three games into Big Ten play, and the Spartans may be facing a must-win, as I wrote about Monday.
The Spartans are 1-1 in conference, with games at Iowa, home against Nebraska and at Penn State coming up. They have to win all of them if they want to win the Big Ten. Of the three, Thursday's game in Iowa City should be the toughest.
Iowa is 11-4 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, though they started with the toughest conference slate (home vs. Indiana, at Michigan). The Hawkeyes are 9-1 at home, though only two games are notable: 80-71 win over Iowa State and a 69-65 loss to Indiana. It's been a tough road trip for MSU, with Iowa having won six of the last nine between these teams in Iowa City — including an ugly 43-36 loss in 2008 and a 72-72 loss in 2011.
Fun fact: MSU won the first-ever basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in 1983.
But as for 2013, the Hawkeyes are a little tough to judge right now. They haven't had any bad losses, but they also don't have any great wins. Still, they battled Indiana to the end, have talent and always play MSU hard.
They're ranked No. 49 in KenPom with an adjO ranked No. 78 and an adjD ranked No. 40, so this is a pretty good team. Offensively, the Hawkeyes have an eFG% of 49.2 percent (No. 134), while also holding onto the ball (18.9 TO%, No. 92). Interesting, while the turnover number is low, the steal number is high (11.1 percent), and MSU has been a good team at getting steals (13.1 percent), so don't be surprised if Iowa has some more turnovers than normal.
Most of the scoring comes inside, as Iowa is shooting 50.4 percent on 2s (No. 74), compared to just 31.1 percent on 3s (No. 255). Aaron White is the guy to watch inside. He averages 13.2 points, shooting 61 percent on 2s. He also averages a team-high 6.1 rebounds. MSU's big men have been struggling with true bigs recently. This will have to change.
Defensively, the Hawkeyes give up an eFG% of 43.3, which is No. 32 in the nation. They're in the middle of the pack in terms of forcing turnovers, so who knows how this will go. Opponents shoot 29.1 percent on 3s and 43.1 percent on 2s
On the glass, Iowa is grabbing 36.5 percent of its misses and only allowing opponents to grab 30.6 percent. The Spartans will need to win the glass in this one.
The Hawkeyes are a deep team, with nine players averaging at least 16 minutes, and 11 averaging more than nine minutes. Only Marble averages more than 30 minutes at 30.9. Other notable players to watch include highly-touted freshman center Adam Woodbury (6.5 points, 59 percent on 2s, 5.5 rebounds) and freshman Anthony Clemmons, the starting point guard who averages 4.8 points, 4.1 assists, 1.5 turnovers. The third freshman starter, Mike Gesell averages 9.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists and 2.1 turnovers.
MSU seems to have settled into a seven-ish man rotation since the departure of Brandan Kearney. Fran McCaffery teams like to run, so it will be interesting to see if MSU wants to run, too. They've looked quite tired at times in their first two Big Ten games.
KenPom predicts a 68-66 MSU win, with a 57 percent win probability. If the Spartans want to win the Big Ten, they'll have to take this one, and I predict they do by a bucket or two. Hey, that rhymes.