BRESLIN CENTER, EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 2, 2011, 6:30 PM EST
TV: Big Ten Network (Gus Johnson, Shon Morris)
ONLINE RADIO FEED: Spartan Sports Network
Iowa's rising freshman star Melsahn Basabe was
4 years old 8 months old (HT: Ducking Delvon) the last time the Hawkeyes won at the Breslin Center. Now Basabe and his teammates come to East Lansing looking for a sweep of the Spartans that would dim the luster of Senior Day. Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Mike Kebler will be playing their last home game as a backdrop to the latest must-win situation of MSU's turbulent season. Be sure to take a look at KJ's retrospective on the careers of these three Spartans, part of the sixth winningest class in school history (and with a win tonight they'll tie for fifth).
This has been a season of firsts of the wrong kind for the Spartans: first non-conference home loss in 52 games, first loss to Michigan at the Breslin Center since 1997, worst home loss since 2003 and worst offensive performance since 2008 (twice). With all that, though, the low point of the season was probably the 20-point loss to the Hawkeyes in Iowa City, a game Draymond Green has since called one of the most embarrassing losses of his career. There is no embarrassment in losing to Iowa per se: coach Fran McCaffery, taking over this year from Todd Lickliter, has clearly brought a new energy and a lot of athletic young players to the program. The embarrassment was in the way the MSU lost, playing with little visible energy and leading Tom Izzo, among others, to question their effort. A home loss to a now 3-13 last place Iowa team on Senior Day would probably be a step down even from that.
That being said, MSU has a lot of positive goals to shoot for with a win tonight. For one thing, beating Iowa guarantees a .500 regular-season record in-conference. This is no official requirement to get into the NCAA tournament: numerous teams have made it without hitting that mark (the last being Georgia Tech last year). But it does have some unofficial status in the consideration of teams for at-large bids. And a win is, surely, a fitting close at home to the careers of Lucas, Summers and Kebler, back-to-back Big Ten title winners and attainers of two Final Fours and one national runner-up. A comfortable win, something achieved exactly once in conference play this year, would be the order of the day, allowing the seniors to accept the tribute of the fans without the distraction of a nail-biter or worse, a tournament-endangering loss. (It would be unfortunate for Kalin Lucas to close his career at home the way Talor Battle did last night.)
What to expect? Well, the first time these teams met Iowa put up a 60+ eFG%, slashing to the hoop repeatedly to tally 11 layups and 4 dunks. MSU fell behind early and never recovered, thanks to their own 37.5 eFG% shooting. If those numbers repeat themselves, obviously, so likely will the result. The good news is that this one was largely on the defense and not simply the lights-out shooting of Iowa. As you can see from KJ's graph of defensive eFG%, things have improved distinctly since then on the defensive end. If the interior defense can make any improvements at all in keeping Gatens, Brommer, May, Basabe and company away from the rim, it will be greatly to MSU's advantage. Iowa is the *ahem* second-worst three-point shooting team in the conference at 32%. The Spartans need to do what the Hawkeyes themselves did back at Carver-Hawkeye and pack in the defense, forcing Iowa to win it from outside.
On defense, Iowa is the Mini-Me to Ohio State's Dr. Evil when it comes to combining high turnover rate with few fouls. Fran McCaffery's teams have had this profile for a number of years now. So the Spartans will need to do a lot better than the 17 turnovers in just 62 possessions they coughed up in the first game. There will be turnovers (I think I've seen that movie too), but it will be important to limit those of the unforced variety. If MSU can hang onto the ball, and hit enough outside shots to keep the defense honest, the Hawkeyes are quite vulnerable inside. Conference opponents are hitting 54% from inside the arc and they stand dead last in the Big Ten, by a good margin, in defensive rebounding percentage. Look for the Spartans to work the ball inside (notice my avoidance of the word "pound" here) and go hard after their misses. Derrick Nix had his best game of the year against Iowa (12 points, 5 offensive boards and 1 turnover in just 12 minutes of action) and, despite Izzo's apparent displeasure with his weight management lately, I would expect to see a fair amount of him in this game. It also wouldn't be a bad thought for Durrell Summers to try to snap out of his current funk by going to work on the offensive glass as well as the defensive. Some easy putbacks might do his confidence some good and if, as he has suggested, they are running fewer plays for him, that might be a good way to turn this into a positive. Of course, with Gus Johnson calling the game, it would sure be great to hear a lot of: "Durrell Summers! HaHaaaah!".
As a side note, it will be interesting to see how Kalin Lucas and the other seniors decide to leave the court for the last time. After years of kissing the block S at center court, it has been replaced with the Spartan helmet logo this year. Lucas has hinted that the seniors might consider changing up the tradition.
ADDED BONUS! Here's the video to go along with the picture at the top of the article
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