Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Preview: Michigan State women's basketball to open Big Ten campaign at No. 9 Iowa

December 5, 2021
<p>Parks steals the ball away from an Iowa player during the third quarter when things were tied up. The Spartans fell to the Hawkeyes, 87-72, in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament on March 12, 2021. </p>

Parks steals the ball away from an Iowa player during the third quarter when things were tied up. The Spartans fell to the Hawkeyes, 87-72, in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament on March 12, 2021.

Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

Michigan State women's basketball opens their Big Ten campaign at No. 9 Iowa today. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.

The Spartans enter the matchup 5-3 overall after collecting their first home court loss against Notre Dame in Thursday's Big Ten/ACC Challenge, where they fell 76-71. Freshman guard/forward Matilda Ekh tied her career high 17 points and junior guard Moira Joiner set a season-high 14 points on Thursday night.

Against the Fighting Irish, the Spartans were moving poorly on both ends of the ball. Offensively, they were shooting 33% from the field and 29% from beyond the arc at halftime, only for that to improve 36% and 40% at the final buzzer. Defensively, they gave up 76 points, the most this season, and were not able to hold off freshman guard Sonia Citron, who posted 29 points on her own. In general, Notre Dame had some height over them, making it harder to keep a solid press and remain aggressive.

Height is going to be a recurring issue for the Spartans this season. With their six top players as short as 5'7", they are missing out on extremely important inches. They have four girls who stand between 6 feet and 6'3" that actually see a decent amount of playing time, two in the starting five and two off the bench. Most of their tall girls are freshman or on injury reserve.

The Spartans are first in the nation in assists with 181. They are also first in the Big Ten and fourth in the nation in assists per game, averaging 20.1. Senior guard Nia Clouden is third in the Big Ten and 27th in the nation in scoring, averaging 19.6 points per game.

Iowa and the numbers

The Hawkeyes enter the matchup coming off of a loss, their first of the season after Duke stuffed them in a 15-point deficit during their Big Ten/ACC Challenge for a 79-64 finish. They are 4-1 overall after having several schedule cancellations from COVID-19 issues – before Thursday, they had not played a game since Nov. 17.

Iowa is led by superstar sophomore guard Caitlin Clark, who set the college basketball world ablaze last season. The Daily Iowan's assistant sports editor Chloe Peterson saw it first hand and knows how vital Clark is to the team.

"I would say Iowa’s biggest strength, most of the time, is its offensive ability," Peterson said in a text. "Last season, the Hawkeyes were second in the nation averaging over 90 points per game, with (Clark) averaging almost 27. But a lot of the Hawkeyes’ offense relies on Clark, and if she can’t get the ball to fall, it seems as if nobody can."

Don't get it twisted, though. This isn't a one woman show. Senior center Monika Czinano is a star in her own right and was a big part of knocking the Spartans out of the Big Ten Tournament a year ago.

"Iowa’s team leaders are Clark and center Monika Czinano," Peterson said. "While Clark can score with mid-range jumpers and (three)-pointers, Czinano is a force in the paint. Czinano led the nation in shooting percentage last year and can fight through opposition in the paint to get it in the basket."

This will be the only regular season matchup between the two squads with Iowa leading the all-time series 40-30. Last time they met was the Big Ten Semifinals, where Iowa took down MSU 87-72.

This also doubles as the earliest Big Ten opener for the Spartans since they fell to Indiana on Dec. 6, 2009. Their first conference matchup in the Breslin Center will follow on Thursday – tip-off against Illinois is set for 7 p.m.

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