No. 24 Michigan State (18-9, 10-6 Big Ten) returns home to face Big Ten Player of the Year front-runner Luka Garza and No. 18 Iowa (19-8, 10-6) in a battle of two second place teams among a five-way nod for second in the Big Ten.
Coach Tom Izzo highlighted the plethora of prominent big men, along with Garza, in the conference.
“The big guys are dominating our league,” Izzo said. “And Garza is probably the hardest prep of all of them because I think he's got one of the highest basketball IQ's for a big guy that I've seen. I think in motion, meaning once he catches and starts to move, he can adapt.”
The Hawkeyes’ rising superstar stands at 6-foot-11 at the center position and nearly averages a double-double with 23.7 points and 9.6 assists per game. With “missed layups” compounding perpetual frontcourt question marks, MSU found success moving the ball when featuring a smaller lineup in its comfortable win in Lincoln, Nebraska and such lineups are viable when senior forward Kyle Ahrens is healthy, according to Izzo.
“When Kyle isn't practicing and you're worried about him being injured, it's hard to change the dynamics of your team and rely on that,” Izzo said. “We've definitely played a little more small ball, and I think we definitely will. But some of that is dictated by the teams you play too. Are we good enough where we make them change who they are, or are we going to have to adjust to them a little bit? And we do a little bit of both.”
Ahrens’ impact is evident when he’s able to stay on the floor, as his contributions stretched beyond his 4-for-6 shooting beyond the arc Thursday. The fifth-year swingman gives Izzo flexibility and athleticism along with sufficient shooting at the small forward-power forward medley when thinking about going smaller.
“I think he'll still be a very important part,” Izzo continued on Ahrens. “He gives us the opportunity to play different ways. But even when he's in there on the wing now he's shooting the ball really well, shooting it well in practice.”
It will be intriguing to monitor Ahrens’ continued role as he attempts to garner more minutes amid nagging injury.
MSU -8.5, O/U 151.5 according to OddShark
Paolo Giannandrea: MSU 79, Iowa 70
Jayna Bardahl: MSU 75, Iowa 63