Fifth-ranked Iowa looks to end Michigan State’s dominance in series
Spartans are unranked and struggling, but have won 14 of last 16 games against Iowa
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Though it’s still early with more than half of the conference schedule still remaining, the Big Ten men’s basketball race is starting to reveal itself, or so it seems.
The 14 conference teams could be divided into three groups at this point with undefeated Michigan and twice-beaten Iowa in one group.
The second group consists of Illinois, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Indiana, Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan State, Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland, while the third group consists of Penn State and Nebraska.
One could argue that Illinois from a talent standpoint deserves to be in the first group with Michigan and Iowa, but Illinois has lost four games overall, and two already in conference play, including a 66-63 loss to Maryland this past Sunday in Champaign, Ill.
Illinois certainly has time to climb into the first group, as do all of the teams in that second group, including Michigan State, which faces No. 5 Iowa on Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Spartans, with records of 8-4 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten, had better flip the switch in a hurry, though, because the Big Ten shows little mercy.
One of college basketball true superpowers has lost four its last six games, including a deflating 55-54 setback to Purdue last Friday at home in which the Spartans blew a late lead.
Michigan State, at times, has struggled under Tom Izzo, partly due to playing a tough nonconference schedule, but Izzo always seems to push the right buttons in conference play.
His teams always seem to get better during conference play, and often peak during the post season, as evidenced by Michigan State having made eight NCAA Final Fours under Izzo.
“It’s the same Michigan State team,” Iowa senior guard Jordan Bohannon said Wednesday on a zoom conference. “If I were to guess, they’ll probably be in the Final Four this year. You guys might think I’m crazy. But coach Izzo and they always find a way, I don’t know the exact stat, but I’m pretty sure every four years there’s been a Michigan State team in the Final Four.
“So that proves the ability that they’re able to play at, the guys that coach Izzo recruits, they always pride themselves on being the tougher team. And we have to understand that no matter what they’ve done in the alt couple of games.”
Under Izzo, Michigan State has advanced to the Final Four in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2019, so Bohannon’s stat was close to being right, with 2010-15 the lone exception.
Thursday’s game is sort of personal for Bohannon, who is a fifth-year senior.
“I haven’t beaten Michigan State since I’ve been here,” Bohannon said. “We’ve been close a bunch of years and let it slip away. So that’s definitely on my mind.”
Michigan State has won five games in a row against Iowa, and 14 of the last 16 in the series.
So Bohannon has the perfect mindset heading into Thursday’s game.
Even with its struggles, Michigan State is dangerous because it can beat just about anybody on a good night. The problem with the current Michigan State team is that recently it hasn’t had many good nights, or good days, for that matter.
But if Iowa were to struggle on defense, and from 3-point range, Michigan State could have its way.
The Spartans are physical and athletic, and always well coached and determined.
“I think you know what you’re getting from Michigan State when you play them,” said Iowa All-America senior center Luka Garza. “They’re going to be one the most physical teams, one of the most aggressive teams, a team that always pushes it in transition, and a team that prides itself on being the tougher team and winning the war on the boards.”
Toughness has been a trademark throughout Izzo’s reign.
But it also takes more than toughness and aggression to win basketball games, and that’s where Michigan State has struggled.
The Spartans only made three shots from 3-point range in the loss to Purdue, and their point guard play has been inconsistent.
Iowa, on the other hand, has won four games in a row since losing at Minnesota 102-95 in overtime on Christmas day.
Iowa blew a seven-point lead with 44 seconds left in regulation before losing in overtime.
The players only had themselves to blame, and have been on a mission ever since.
Michigan is clearly the biggest story in the Big Ten right now, and it gained even more attention with its dismantling of Wisconsin on Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Michigan wasn’t considered a Big Ten contender heading into the season, whereas Iowa has been ranked as high as third nationally, and is currently ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll.
Iowa entered the season with high expectations, and has lived up to them for the most part.
Take away the collapse at Minnesota, and the 99-88 loss to top-ranked Gonzaga in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Iowa has been rock solid.
The fact that Iowa is favored by nine points heading into Thursday’s game says a lot about both teams.
Iowa and Michigan State are moving in different directions, but a lot can change in one game.
Iowa vs. Michigan State
When: Thursday, 8:07 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
All-time series: Michigan State holds a 76-55 advantage over Iowa in the series. The Spartans have won five straight and 14 of the last 16 meetings, dating back to 2011. Michigan State won last season’s only meeting (78-70) in East Lansing, Michigan. Iowa holds a 35-26 advantage in games played against Michigan State in Iowa City. Michigan State won, 82-67, in its last visit to Iowa City on Jan. 24, 2019. The Hawkeyes’ last victory over Michigan State in Carver-Hawkeye Arena was on Dec. 29, 2015, when Iowa took down the top-ranked Spartans, 83-70. Michigan State, in 1983, won the first basketball game ever played in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.