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MSU men's basketball looks to sustain momentum in clash with red-hot Iowa

February 19, 2024
<p>Coach Tom Izzo speaking with his team during a game against Baylor University at the Little Caesar’s Arena on Dec. 16, 2023. The Spartans would defeat No. 6 ranked Baylor 88-64.</p>

Coach Tom Izzo speaking with his team during a game against Baylor University at the Little Caesar’s Arena on Dec. 16, 2023. The Spartans would defeat No. 6 ranked Baylor 88-64.

Photo by Donté Smith | The State News

Michigan State’s men’s basketball, fresh off its first win in Ann Arbor and regular-season sweep of the Michigan Wolverines since 2019, will begin a week-long homestand in a battle with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

After an avoidable, disappointing loss for MSU at Minnesota on Feb. 6, the Spartans spent their last week-and-a-half picking up crucial wins for their postseason résumé, starting with an eight-point win against then-No. 10 Illinois followed by road wins at Penn State and Michigan.

The Spartans didn’t play a perfect game in Ann Arbor. They struggled from three and on the glass, but in the end, they executed defensively – Michigan didn’t score a point in the final 7:01 of play.

“At the end of the day, it’s about getting a win,” head coach Tom Izzo said at his weekly press conference Monday. “You play good at the end, you find a way to grind out, sometimes that is as good as anything else.”

This season, to say the least, has been an unexpected one for Izzo and MSU. The Spartans began the season No. 4 in the country before losing five of their first nine games. They fell out of the Big Ten race early on after they were projected to lead the conference all offseason.

Still, all of MSU’s postseason goals are in front of them. The team is on pace to earn a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament, awarded to the top four seeds in the conference. The team has a chance to win over bracketologists in the final stretch of the season and earn a favorable draw come Selection Sunday.

Winning eight out of 10, with an opportunity to make it 10 out of 12 in an upcoming homestand, is a recipe for doing exactly that

Izzo and the Spartans have reached 25 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and don’t plan on stopping there, no matter how underwhelming their season has been to this point

“Everybody, of course, talks about the streak in the NCAA Tournament,” Izzo said. “A month ago, that was in jeopardy. It’s always in jeopardy until you get it, but it was in real jeopardy.”

Iowa, however, is not an opponent to be taken lightly. MSU learned that after blowing a 13-point lead inside two minutes and falling in overtime last season in Iowa City. Izzo said he’s burned that tape. What the Spartans are focused on, he said, is continuing to play with consistency.

When firing on all cylinders, MSU can hang with just about any team in the country. That was on full display against Baylor, Illinois and even Arizona when the Spartans led the Wildcats by three with four minutes remaining. The main problem has been their inability to play complete games. 

Izzo said his team has greatly improved its consistency, which has been apparent. Graduate forward Malik Hall has played a significant role in that as he's become the player he envisioned when first coming to MSU: an assertive, dynamic force on a nightly basis. 

In Hall’s last five games, he’s averaging 18.8 points and six rebounds – a major development for a team that needs all it can get out of its veterans

The Spartans will be tasked with taming a red-hot Iowa offense as of late. The Hawkeyes, coming off an overtime win at Wisconsin, do not possess the typical Fran McCaffery blueprint. They want to get up and down the floor, like the Spartans, and get to the free-throw line. 

“Defending without fouling’s gonna be important,” Izzo said. “Transition defense, (Iowa’s) one of the best running teams in our league. They score off made buckets and missed.”

Veteran guard Tony Perkins leads Iowa’s scoring charge with 15.5 points and 4.2 assists per game, posing a challenge for MSU’s perimeter defense alongside sharpshooting guard Payton Sandfort

The Hawkeyes have benefited greatly from freshman Owen Freeman’s production at averaging 11 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. The team has also gotten what they need out of Ben Krikke, their transfer center from Valparaiso. 

In what shapes up to be a classic Big Ten showdown, both teams have a lot on the line as March draws closer

Michigan State and Iowa will tip off at the Breslin Center at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 20. The game will be streamed exclusively on Peacock

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