As the Big Ten season moves along, the importance of each game on the schedule is not to be understated by teams in the conference.
After watching No. 5 Indiana survive a New Year’s Eve scare against Iowa and Purdue upset then-No. 11 Illinois on Jan. 2, the notion of any team competing on any given day is less cliché and more reality this season for MSU head coach Tom Izzo.
MSU has big games looming with No. 15 Ohio State and a tough road environment versus Wisconsin before a showdown in Bloomington, Ind., against the Hoosiers, the No. 22 Spartans (12-3 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) hit the road Thursday to play Iowa (11-4, 0-2) at Carver–Hawkeye Arena (7 p.m., ESPN2).
For Izzo, the game will be another solid evaluation of his team, still in need of the chemistry that comes along with utilizing resources correctly.
“We haven’t put it all together yet, there is no question about that,” Izzo said. “I think after one week of Big Ten play, I think you can see where the conference is going to be as good as everyone said it was going to be or better.”
The Big Ten currently touts six teams in the AP Top 25 rankings — the most of any conference in college basketball — with No. 2 Michigan holding down the conference’s top spot. Five of the Spartans’ next 10 matchups come against teams in the AP Top 25, while the remaining teams still are likely to challenge them.
Senior center Derrick Nix said he thinks the Big Ten is the best conference in college basketball with the potential for parity up and down the standings.
“The Big Ten is always tough but almost every team is ranked and even the unranked teams can beat the ranked teams,” Nix said. “You just gotta be ready to play every night.”
The Hawkeyes enter the contest in a stretch of three consecutive games against ranked teams with previous losses to the Hoosiers and Wolverines. The team has received a consistent scoring attack this season from guard/forward Roy Devyn Marble (15.5 points per game) and forward Aaron White (13.2 points per game).
One matchup to watch will be freshman guard Denzel Valentine as he goes against his former Lansing Sexton teammate and Iowa guard Anthony Clemmons.
Both players have been able to contribute to their respective programs in their first seasons, which Valentine credits to hard work and the coaching staff led by his father Carlton Valentine at Lansing Sexton.
“I was actually surprised how much me and him are playing,” Denzel Valentine said. “Everyone thought (Clemmons) was an underdog, they thought he was going to go down there and not play. … His work ethic carried on and he ended up starting; he’s the starting point guard. I think that says something about our program, the Big Reds.”