Pick – Analysis
Michigan State and Iowa are two of the hottest teams in the Big Ten, which is somewhat surprising since the Hawkeyes started 0-3 in Conference play. Instead of folding, they’ve won five straight with two on the road (NW, PSU) and two against Nebraska and Ohio State. Of course, a lot of people will look at the previous matchup between these teams when it wasn’t close, a 90-68 MSU win.
The Game was close in the first 10 minutes and Iowa actually had a lead, but that quickly changed and MSU led by 10 points at the break. The second half was even worse as the Spartans opened on a 25-5 run. Take away that run and things are a little different, but easier said than done. That Game was back on Dec. 3 and the good news is this one is in Iowa City where Iowa usually puts up a fight. However, something has to change for the Hawkeyes down low because Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman combined to go 15-of-16 for 40 points in that first meeting, dominating in the paint. That doesn’t include Kenny Goins who dropped 19 points and went 6-of-7 inside the arc. With the help of those numbers, Iowa has the second-worst two-point defense in the Big Ten, while MSU ranks as the best from two and three.
That’s the reason Iowa could again have trouble because it’s not like this is suddenly an elite defensive team. Maybe it’s better than it was back in December, but this team has still given up more than 80 points in recent wins over Nebraska and Penn State. Stopping Ward, Tillman and Goins will again be the biggest thing if Iowa wants a chance in this Game. Ward is coming off a surprising zero points on Monday (14 minutes played due to foul trouble) and will be ready to score. The problem is that none of Iowa’s bigs are great post defenders. LUka Garza and Ryan Kriener will get marked with Ward the most and both give up some muscle, while the same goes for Tyler Cook and Nicholas Baer against Tillman. Goins is simply a hard worker and he beat them up last Game. Then there’s Cassius Winston, who only made one basket last meeting to go with 12 assists, while Matt McQuaid replaces Joshua LAngford in the lineup from last Game due to injury.
If Iowa can’t stop MSU’s bigs, it needs to find another way to stay competitive and that means shooting better than 6-of-22 from long distance. The Hawkeyes are a solid shooting team with Jordan Bohannon taking the most shots, but both Joe Wieskamp and Isaiah Moss shoot it better than 45 percent from deep. That’ll come in handy in this Game, but MSU’s three-point defense has been the best in the Conference and that’s another worry. Moss and Wieskamp will likely be matched with MSU’s top defenders in McQuaid and Aaron Henry, who both have size and speed and that could be an issue.
Cook is Iowa’s top scorer at 16.5 ppg, but he’s taken a backseat in recent Games and has only played in two of the last Four due to a nagging injury. It’s been others like Garza, who has 42 points in the last two Games, and Wieskamp, who had a career-high 24 points last Game. Those guys are playing well, but MSU’s defense is nothing like that of Illinois or Penn State and this is a completely different matchup.
Iowa may be at home, but if it continues to struggle defending in the paint, it’s hard to see it stealing this Game. It’ll require a good shooting night and a variety of scoring, while also stopping Ward and Tillman from getting easy looks every time down the floor. Neither of those things are guaranteed, so the edge goes to the Spartans who have covered in all eight Big Ten Games this season.
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