IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa senior guard Anthony Clemmons is running out of chances to earn bragging rights in his hometown of Lansing, Mich.
Iowa has lost nine games in a row against Michigan State and 14 of the last 15 games overall in the series heading into Tuesday’s Big Ten opener at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Clemmons, who grew up just a few miles from the Michigan State campus in East Lansing, has celebrated a victory over every Big Ten opponent except for the Spartans.
“It would mean a lot because that’s the only team I haven’t beat,” Clemmons said of the Spartans. “And to have that X on my back from being there and knowing the guys, not beating them before gives you an extra burst.”
Iowa will need an extra burst to derail the Spartans, who enter Tuesday’s game as the nation’s top-ranked team and with a 13-0 record.
Michigan State will be without its best player in do-everything senior guard Denzel Valentine because of a knee injury, which he suffered in practice slightly more than a week ago.
But Tom Izzo’s cupboard hardly is bare.
The Spartans have won their first 13 games by an average of 21.5 points per game.
Michigan State ranks second in the country in assists per game (22.2) and field goal percentage defense (.353); third in rebounding margin (14.5); fourth in defensive rebounding (31.31); seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.79) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (.265); eighth in scoring margin (21.5); 13th in scoring defense (59.7); and 21st in field goal percentage (.492).
Even without Valentine in the lineup, the Spartans are loaded in the backcourt with shooting guards Bryn Forbes and Eron Harris and point guard Lourawls Nairn Jr.
Forbes is the team’s second leading scorer behind Valentine with a 14.2 per-game average. Harris, who transferred from West Virginia, is averaging 8.5 points per game, while the super quick Nairn is dishing out 4.4 assists per game.
Michigan State has nine players, not including Valentine, who average at least 9.4 minutes per game and seven who average at least 15 minutes per game.
The Spartans also have 10 players, not including Valentine, who average at least 3.3 points per game. That includes 6-9 senior Matt Costello, who is averaging 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
“They’re going to be different because (Valentine) has the ball so much,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Monday on a teleconference. “But what you’re going to see is a much more aggressive Harris, who is a terrific player. You’re going to see a much more aggressivd Forbes, who’s also a terrific player.
“They rotate so many front-court guys, all those guys will be a little more active. I think Costello being the main one. So they’re a team that was essentially playing 13 guys, and now they’re playing twelve.”
McCaffery will counter with a lineup that includes four senior starters, along with junior Peter Jok, who started most of last season.
The 6-foot-1 Clemmons has started all 12 games this season and 37 overall for the Hawkeyes, who finished the non-conference portion of the schedule with a 9-3 record.
McCaffery said he expects Clemmons to have a little added incentive playing against his home-town Spartans. But he also expects Clemmons to approach the game with the same professionalism that he has for every game.
"From the minute he got here, he’s been incredibly professional with his approach," McCaffery said. "And he’ll be the same way on Tuesday."
Iowa’s lone victory in the last 15 games against Michigan State was a 72-52 win on Feb. 2, 2011 in Iowa City – McCaffery’s first season as head coach.
Iowa has a 34-24 advantage in games played in Iowa City, although, the two teams have split the last 12 games played in Iowa City.
Michigan State won the first game ever played in Carver-Hawkeye Arena – a 61-59 victory on Jan. 5, 1983. Michigan State’s 15 victories are the most by any opponent in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
So as far as Big Ten openers go, Iowa might face its toughest challenge right out of the game.
“I don’t care who lines up in front of me,” said Iowa senior forward Jarrod Uthoff, who leads his team in scoring with an 18.3 per-game average. “I’m just playing.”
Iowa students will have free admission for Tuesday’s game, which starts at 8:06 p.m., and will be televised by the Big Ten Network. Fans also are encouraged to be bold and wear gold.