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MSU Women’s Basketball Round One Preview: Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa v Michigan State - Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament - Semifinals Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

The Michigan State Spartans square off tonight against the Iowa State Cyclones in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament. The No. 10-seeded Spartans will face the No. 7-seeded Cyclones for the first time since 2009 at 6 p.m. EDT with the game airing on ESPN. Courtney Lyle and Carolyn Peck make up the analyst and play-by-play team for the broadcast.

The 10-seed marks just the second time in program history MSU has earned that seed, losing 67-55 to No. 7-seed Louisville in the 2012 tournament. However, for this tournament the Spartans are one of 26 teams to have both their men’s and women’s teams earn a NCAA bid. The Big Ten represents five of those 26, including Rutgers, Michigan, Iowa, and Maryland.

The Spartans enter the tournament with a 15-8 overall record. Monday’s game against Iowa State will be MSU’s second-straight game against a team from Iowa, as the Spartans lost to the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals in their last outing.

The 2020-21 Cyclones finished their season with a 16-10 overall record, including a 12-6 Big 12 record, good for an at-large bid into the tourney. They were the No. 4 seed in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri, but fell in the opener to No. 5 seed Texas, 84-82 in overtime. The Cyclones have earned 12 berths to the NCAA tournament over the past 15 years, making them one of just 15 teams nationally to do so. All 19 of the program’s NCAA Tournament appearances have come under the direction of current head coach Bill Fennelly, who has been in Ames since the start of the 1995-96 season.

The ISU offense averages an impressive 76.7 points per game, while giving up just 70.8 ppg to opponents. Junior guard Ashley Joens earned unanimous first-team All-Big 12 accolades for her second season in a row. Joens averages 23.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per game this season.

Teammate and freshman guard Lexi Donarski was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, and averages 12.9 points and 2.0 assists during the season. She was the only freshman in the Big 12 to average double-digits this season, and is ISU’s first Freshman of the Year since 1998.

Senior forward Kristin Scott is the third Cyclone who is averaging in double-figures and the other teammate to earn Big 12 honors, being named second-team All-Big 12. Scott averages 11.8 ppg and 5.7 rpg. Guard Emily Ryan joined Donarski on the All-Freshman team and has been averaging 8.0 points and dishing out 5.7 assists per game.

However, Michigan State is used to facing high-powered offenses like the Cyclones. Iowa’s Caitlin Clark leads the nation in scoring with 26.7 ppg, while Michigan’s Naz Hillmon is fourth in the NCAA with 25.1 ppg. That should help the Spartans as Iowa State’s Ashley Joens is currently ninth in the country in scoring, averaging 23.6 ppg, as mentioned.

Michigan State and Iowa State had just one common opponent this season, the Iowa Hawkeyes. ISU lost to Iowa 82-80 on Dec. 6 in Iowa City in its only matchup on the year. During Big Ten regular season action action, Michigan State defeated Iowa, 86-82, on Dec. 12. The Hawkeyes got revenge by returning the favor in an 87-72 rout of the Spartans in the Big Ten Tournament on March 12.

While Michigan State and Iowa State have only ever faced each other five times prior to now, their last meeting was also in the NCAA Tournament. In the 2009 tournament, the teams faced off in the Regional Semifinal of the Berkley Region in Berkeley, California where the ninth-seeded Spartans fell just short to the fourth-seeded Cyclones, 69-68.

Overall, Michigan State leads the all-time series, 3-2. MSU has gone 3-0 in East Lansing, 0-1 in Ames, and is 0-1 on a neutral court, The series dates back to 1982 when the teams met for the first time in East Lansing.

MSU is in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in the last six seasons a tournament has been held (obviously you are all well aware the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic). This trip marks the Spartan women’s 18th tournament bid overall, though Michigan State has also gotten a bid to the NCAA Tournament in 15 of the last 18 seasons one has been held.

The winner of this game will go on to face the winner of No. 2 Texas A&M and No. 15 Troy on Wednesday.

Coach Merchant Media Remarks

On the Cyclones:

“They have five kids that can shoot the three and shoot it at a high clip. They can really, really score, and they do enough defensively. They challenge you because if they don’t think a player on your team can shoot, they’ll just sit in the paint and not guard that kid. If you have a really good post player, they’ll double, if you don’t, they’ll play behind and kind of push off the block.”

On Iowa State’s Joens:

“I’ve never seen a kid play with more heart, soul and guts with that kind of talent. Her body must feel awful after every game she plays. When your best player is taking three, four charges, she’s getting hit left and right and getting double-teamed and pushed down and diving on the floor for loose balls, I’ve never seen a kid play with that kind of aggression and heart.

It’s been fun to watch them and prepare for them. I don’t know what the answer is, because she’s a tough matchup and we have key injuries in the position she plays from a defensive standpoint. On the other end, they do things defensively we hope we can take advantage of.”

Nia Clouden Media Remarks

Janai Crooms Media Remarks

Calling Out the NCAA

Most of you have likely seen the news on this by now, but if you haven’t, get out from under your rock. The blatant sexism on display between facilities is appalling this year. While some folks may be inclined to try and scream “but the revenue!” but that’s hardly an excuse for the stark contrast. The unfair and bias treatment given to the men over the women in this year’s tournament is outrageous and all-power to the women’s teams for calling the NCAA out on it. Eli McKown had a great column to this effect in the State News over the weekend as well.

MSU players and coaches had the following to say on the matter:

Nia Clouden:

“It’s not so much shocking because stuff like this has happened before. It’s pretty upsetting that it still continues to happen. It’s very unfortunate that they receive different things than us. For the most part, it’s been more upsetting instead of shocking.”

Janai Crooms, experiencing her first NCAA Tournament:

“It’s sad that we have to still go through this It just starts with the little things, like I said, with food even and the gear and just different things that we get. We want the equality, too, and I don’t even think we’re even going to get to that point. It’s sad that it’s still like this.”

Coach Merchant:

“I still look at it as a bigger problem when I look at we have 64 teams and they get 68. Why do they have four more teams in a tournament than we do? To take it another step further, it took a global pandemic for us to actually play on neutral sites.

“On the men’s side they get to play on neutral sites for their first- and second-round games. On the women’s side you have to play on someone’s home floor and in front of their crowd. I’ve never thought that was fair and we’ve benefited from hosting. I’ve been on the other side of that.

“There’s plenty of money to go around. They should invest in women. They should invest in it the same way they do the men when it comes to postseason championships.”

Thankfully some private companies stepped in big time after the NCAA was called out and worked with them to provide more adequate practice and training facilities. It’s pathetic it had to happen that way and wasn’t planned for from the get go.