7:00 PM EST, FS1 – Line: Michigan State -5, Over/Under: 157
A key Big Ten battle highlights tonight’s action, as the Sixth-Ranked Michigan State Spartans travel to Iowa City to face the Nineteenth-Ranked Iowa Hawkeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. After last year’s disappointing early ousting in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan State (17-2, 8-0 in Big Ten) has slowly rounded into one of the more formidable teams in the country, winning twelve consecutive games heading into tonight’s contest. In fact, they’ve now strung together an impressive twenty consecutive league victories (dating back to last season), which just so happens to be both a school record and the fifth-longest streak in conference history to boot. Furthermore, it’s the longest such run since Illinois did so way back in the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 campaigns. The Big Ten’s only remaining unbeaten team, the Spartans have kept pace with their bitter rivals from Ann Arbor, who tasted their first defeat over the weekend. When we last saw Tom Izzo’s charges, they hammered Maryland in a 69-55 victory from the Breslin Center in East Lansing. The hosts jumped out onto the Terrapins early, establishing an early 18-6 lead that stood at 31-20 by Halftime, with the game never getting much closer than that the rest of the way. Defense was the keyword, folks, as Michigan State relegated Maryland to their worst shooting performance of the term, netting a dismal 34.4% of their attempts from the field. The Spartans in turn shot 45.9% from the field, despite an uninspiring 6-of-26 from beyond the arc (23.1%), overcoming that with excellent ball-movement (21 Assists), leading to stellar production from WITHIN the arc (22-of-35 2FG, 62.9%). Five different players ended the affair in double-figures, led by Cassius Winston (18.0 PTS, 48.9% FG, 44.0% 3FG, 2.4 REB, 7.3 AST, 1.1 STL, 25.4 PER) and Kenny Goins (7.1 PTS, 42.1% FG, 9.6 REB, 2.4 AST, 1.4 BLK, 18.3 PER) who each scored Fourteen Points apiece, with the former dishing out Seven Assists and the latter further filling up the stat sheet with Twelve Rebounds, Two Assists, Three Steals and a pair of Blocks. What made that overall performance significant for the Spartans is the fact that they handled the Terps with relative ease despite being shorthanded. Joshua Langford (15.0 PTS, 44.3% FG, 403% 3FG, 3.6 REB, 2.3 AST, 0.8 STL, 16.5 PER) missed his sixth consecutive contest with a sprained ankle, with Izzo proclaiming the Junior Guard likely to miss tonight’s tilt with Iowa as well, while fellow Junior Guard Kyle Ahrens (5.8 PTS, 49.4% FG, 2.6 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.6 STL, 14.1 PER) returned from a two-game absence to play sparingly over the weekend. And while he wasn’t injured, Nick Ward (15.7 PTS, 62.8% FG, 6.9 REB, 0.9 AST, 1.4 BLK, 29.9 PER), their second-leading scorer was basically non-existent, going scoreless over the course of an uninspiring Fourteen Minutes. Perhaps a meeting with Iowa will be what the Junior Forward needs to get back on track; Ward torched the Hawkeyes in a 90-68 rout back in early December, scoring a game-high Twenty-Six Points on a perfect 10-of-10 shooting from the field, along with Nine Rebounds and Two Blocks.
Meanwhile, Iowa (16-3, 5-3 in Big Ten) is looking to get back into the Big Ten title hunt, having won five consecutive games to climb to fifth place in the league after a dreadful 0-3 start. When last we saw the Hawkeyes, they effectively ran Illinois out of Carver-Hawkeye Arena in a 95-71 drubbing over the weekend. Fran McCaffery’s charges jumped all over the Illini early, nailing a staggering twelve of their first fourteen Three-Point Attempts en rout to shooting a blistering 68.0% from the field, which just so happened to be a school record. Overall, the hosts knocked down 15-of-21 Three-Pointers (71.4%), outscoring the visiting side by twelve points from beyond the arc. Three different players scored at least Twenty Points for Iowa, including Joe Wieskamp (11.9 PTS, 51.0%, FG, 45.3% 3FG, 5.1 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.8 STL, 20.2 PER), Isaiah Moss (10.0 PTS, 45.1% FG, 45.5% 3FG, 2.6 REB, 2.4 AST, 0.8 STL, 18.3 PER) and Luka Garza (13.9 PTS, 53.0% FG, 4.9 REB, 0.9 AST, 0.6 BLK, 24.5 PER), who together combined for a Sixty-Five Points on 24-of-35 Shooting (68.6%), Ten Rebounds, and Eleven Assists. Together, Wieskamp and Moss sniped their way towards 11-of-12 shooting from downtown (91.7%). The home side also welcomed back a healthy Tyler Cook (16.5 PTS, 59.1% FG, 8.2 REB, 2.6 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.6 BLK, 24.4 PER), who missed the previous outing against Penn State with a sprained ankle. The Junior Forward performed well in limited minutes, scoring Seven Points and Seven Rebounds in the win. McCaffery hopes that this torrid shooting stretch will carry over to this rematch with Michigan State, who as we alluded to earlier, absolutely embarrassed Iowa earlier this season. While that particular affair was reasonably close throughout the First Half, the Hawkeyes’ Zone Defense was exposed mercilessly over the final Twenty Minutes, while they also came out extremely flat offensively to begin that period. Seriously, folks, they struggled to throw the ball into the ocean, missing a miserable Nineteen of their first Twenty Field Goal Attempts to start the half. For a team that entered that game averaging a healthy 82.6 Points per Game, shooting a dreadful 33.0% from the floor was rather jarring. The aforementioned Wieskamp left the action midway through the final half with a sprained right ankle, though should be at full strength for this rematch. Iowa has lost three consecutive meetings Michigan State, with their last victory coming back in January of 2016, in which they toppled the No. 4 Spartans for the second time that season, previously upsetting them a month prior when they were ranked No. One in the country.