Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State men's basketball's opponent.
For the first time since 2016, Michigan State men's basketball has dropped two straight on their home court. The Spartans will host Iowa on Feb. 25, in hopes of recording their first home win since Jan. 29 against Northwestern.
Michigan State and Iowa are both tied alongside Penn State for second place in the Big Ten. MSU leads all time against Iowa 75-55.
For the first meeting between MSU and Iowa this season, The State News spoke with The Daily Iowan sports editor Robert Read via email to get an insider's perspective on the No. 18 ranked Hawkeyes.
Q: Junior center Luka Garza leads the Hawkeyes, scoring 24 against Ohio State and marking his 12th consecutive game passing the 20 point mark. How much will the Hawkeyes rely on him when they play at the Breslin? Where is Garza the strongest? Where does he struggle?
A: Iowa depends on Luka Garza every time the team takes the floor. The Hawkeye lineup has been very depleted this year for a number of reasons. In response, Garza has taken over. He's the best offensive player in the conference and is good for 20+ basically every time he takes the court.
Garza is elite with his hands and his feet in the post. He can catch basically any feed into the post that he can get his hands on, and his ability to manipulate his defender and find open space for a shot is elite. His only weakness this year is really at the free-throw line, where he's shooting about 15% lower than where he was at last season.
(Iowa) coach Fran McCaffery has said recently that other players need to step up to help Garza. Joe Wieskamp is a good example. He's only scored 15 points in his last two games. Garza is going to get his on the offensive end, but Wieskamp and the other Hawkeyes need to help him out.
Q: Iowa took their game against Ohio State thanks to a dominant start. Michigan State has also found a pattern in good starts leading to desirable endings. How much do you think the start of the game on Tuesday will show which team will ultimately take the game?
A: Starting out quickly in a Big Ten game is always important, especially this season. That's definitely been the case for Iowa. In their last two losses on the road (against Purdue and Indiana), the Hawkeyes have been beaten from the opening tip and couldn't recover. Against a team like Michigan State, specifically on the road, the opening five minutes will be key for Iowa.
Q: Michigan State plays a pretty defensive game. Who on the Hawkeye roster will contribute the most to Iowa's defense?
A: This is collectively probably the best defensive team Iowa's had under Fran McCaffery. The Hawkeyes have a lot of versatile players on the roster and a lot of versatile defenders.
The best example of that is Connor McCaffery. With the current state of Iowa's lineup, Connor will play almost the entirety of the game and guard almost anyone on the floor. Connor has gotten significant playing time in the post this, and his strength is evident in his ability to guard forwards in the post despite being undersized.
Q: In your opinion, what will be the biggest key to the game on Tuesday?
A: The biggest question mark heading into this game is the availability of freshman guard CJ Fredrick. The sharpshooter has missed time since suffering an ankle injury Feb. 13 against Indiana, and is questionable to play against the Spartans. Fredrick's presence on the perimeter helps take pressure off of Garza inside.
When Fredrick hasn't been in the lineup, Iowa's 3-point shooting has been lacking at times. Fredrick is also one of Iowa's best perimeter defenders, but it will be interesting to see how he plays on that end of the ball coming back from his injury.
Q: What is your score prediction and why?
MSU 72, Iowa 65.
Winning in East Lansing is a challenge. Iowa's shown its capable of winning games away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. At the same time, the team has had struggles away from home of late. Before a victory against Minnesota Feb. 16, Iowa lost its previous three road games. Especially if Fredrick doesn't play and Iowa is forced to go with its seven-man lineup against on Tuesday, a win against Michigan State may be too tall a task.