They won’t be wearing the same jerseys, but No. 22 MSU and No. 24 Iowa walk into Thursday’s game basically wearing the same shoes.
After a hot start that saw the Spartans at No. 1 earlier in the season, the green and white have dropped four of their last six. The Hawkeyes, who appeared to be a serious player for the Big Ten title early on in the season, have lost three of their last four.
“We know they are coming in to make a statement on a national game, just like we are going to try to do,” head coach Tom Izzo said of the ESPN-televised game.
Last time the two met, junior forward Russell Byrd hit a fadeaway 3-pointer with 34 seconds left in overtime to give MSU a 70-64 lead. Byrd’s shot held up to be the deciding factor, as MSU left Iowa City with a 71-69 victory.
Since then, both teams have had their issues. MSU has had a notable string of injuries and a complete absence of chemistry on the court. Iowa’s defense has plummeted to the conference’s 10th best, allowing 69.8 points per game.
It’s gotten so out of hand, the Hawkeyes have allowed 85.8 points per game in their last four contests.
Izzo pointed out that despite their woes on defense, the Hawkeye’s backcourt is still thriving as they were earlier in the season. Other than calling guard Roy Devyn Marble “one of the best players in this league,” Izzo said Hawkeye guard Josh Oglesby has caught his eye.
After attempting just three shots in their first matchup, Izzo expects to see more out of the guard who has averaged more than 10 points in his last three games.
“(Oglesby) missed 12 games early in the season and has constantly gotten better as the season has gone on. He is a threat any time he catches the ball to score,” Izzo said.
Other than Marble, who is averaging 17.1 points per game, MSU will have to contain 6-foot-9 forward Aaron White to give themselves a chance to win on Senior Night. White, who was held to just four shot attempts against MSU on Jan. 28 , has averaged 18.3 points and 9.6 rebounds in his last three games.
Iowa has their threats, but MSU still is searching for threats not named Gary Harris. After a week of two-a-day practices during spring break, senior guard Keith Appling said his ailing wrist is improving. The news couldn’t be coming at a better time for MSU, as Appling has only scored 14 points in the four games he has played in since returning from his wrist injury.
Another glaring question mark for MSU for the better part of the season has been the center position.
Saturday against Illinois, freshman Gavin Schilling got his first career start over sophomore Matt Costello, who only played eight minutes. Schilling made his moment count and tied his career-high with seven points.
When asked about starting Schilling, Izzo said it wasn’t to make a statement, but rather a move to put the better ball-screener in the starting lineup. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Costello back in the starting role, especially since he put up a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds against the Hawkeyes earlier in the season.
“(Starting Schilling) really wasn’t punishment to Costello,” Izzo said. “It was a ‘let’s give the young guy a chance to see what he can do,’ and he did alright. But eventually I would like to get it back to where it was before.”