Michigan State looks to bounce back in Big Ten play this Thursday as the Spartans welcome Iowa to the Breslin Center.
Senior forward Malik Hall still won’t be available against the Hawkeyes, but Head Coach Tom Izzo is bright about his future.
“I do think there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Izzo said. “So, the only thing we can do is get medical advice. We can do X-rays, MRI’s, CTs, GDs, XYs and PKs and figure out that it still comes down to how does he feel.”
Hall is one of the most prominent players on the roster. His defensive and positional versatility are key parts of the rotation, and his absence has been sorely missed throughout the season.
“There is no question that Malik Hall is penciled in to play 30 minutes a game - minimum,” Izzo said. “That’s 30 minutes you have to find from other guys.”
However, as a team, Michigan State is getting healthier. Sophomore guard Jaden Akins has proven of late that he’s back to his pre-injury health. He’s reached double-digit point totals in two straight, scoring 15 against Indiana and 11 against Rutgers. Akins has also noticeably improved his defense in that stretch, working back his game to where he was in the summer.
“Jaden is 100% back,” Izzo said.
Senior guard Tyson Walker also appears to be nearly back to normal. After an uncharacteristically lukewarm performance against Indiana (mind you, he still notched eight points and four steals), it was revealed that he’d missed some practice time due to a stomach bug. He’ll return to his regular routine leading up to the Iowa game.
MSU is coming off of a disappointing road loss against a red-hot Indiana team. After a tepid start, star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and the Hoosier offense went to work as the game wound on, slowly taking control of the visiting Spartans.
The wheels came off for Michigan State in the second half. Jackson-Davis ended the night with 31 points and Indiana wrapped up the game on a 31-18 run. Some cold stretches from MSU’s offense and hot streaks from the Hoosiers ultimately proved too much for the Spartans.
“I really did feel like we played hard enough,” Izzo said. “We had a couple of stretches, and that’s one thing I talked to the team about this morning. An 8-0 run where you give up two threes, and you miss two free throws in a minute in a half. We can’t have those.”
That loss against Indiana capped off what was an exhausting stretch for the Spartans. MSU played six games in 16 days, often heading into matchups with just a few days of rest and practice.
“To be 3-3, to go through what we went through - I’m not satisfied, but definitely not disappointed either,” Izzo said.
Scouting the opponent
Much like Indiana, Iowa is a team that started off the season shaky but has righted the ship of late. After losing three-straight conference games to open Big Ten play, the Hawkeyes have won four of their last five, which includes wins over Rutgers and Indiana.
Junior forward Kris Murray and the Iowa offense have been responsible for that turnaround. Averaging 81.7 points per game, Iowa has the best scoring offense in the Big Ten (nineteenth in the nation).
“You’ve got the best offensive team in the league by a longshot,” Izzo said.
Kris Murray, brother of former fourth overall pick Keegan Murray, is the biggest threat presented by Iowa’s offense. His 21.3 points per game is second only to Zach Edey in the Big Ten. Standing at 6-foot-8-inches, Murray is a versatile big that can score everywhere on the court. He’s scored no less than 17 points in Iowa’s last seven games.
“A kid like Murray is getting to be every bit as good as his brother,” Izzo said.
However, opposing teams can’t just hone in on Murray. The Hawkeyes have a host of scorers behind him - including Murray, Iowa has five players with average points in the double-digits.
“They’re getting a lot of ball out of a lot of players,” Izzo said.
In short, Michigan State’s defense will have its hands full with the Hawkeyes.
While the Hawkeyes’ offense ranks among the best in the conference, their defense is dead last in the Big Ten. Iowa lets up over 70 points per game, consistently allowing opposing offenses to shoot efficiently from the field. Opponents shoot 45.6% against the Hawkeyes, the worst in the Big Ten.
Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.