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Iowa men's basketball not sleeping on Thursday's game against Michigan State

Hawkeyes know it would be folly to focus on Spartans' 2-4 Big Ten record

Iowa men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery shakes hands with Michigan State counterpart Tom Izzo before a 2013 game at C
Iowa men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery shakes hands with Michigan State counterpart Tom Izzo before a 2013 game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (The Gazette)

UPDATE:Thursday's Michigan State at Iowa men's basketball game has been postponed.

Previous story by Mike Hlas, The Gazette:

The Green Giant seemingly is staggering into Carver-Hawkeye Arena Thursday night, but only the naive would assume it is in decline.

Michigan State, the three-time defending Big Ten regular-season men’s basketball champion, has been unusually ordinary this season. The Spartans (8-4 overall) have lost four of their first six conference games for the first time since 2003. They fell 79-65 at Northwestern and 81-56 at Minnesota.

Against Purdue in their most-recent game, the Spartans squandered a 17-point second-half lead at home and lost, 55-54.

This was a team that was ranked No. 4 a month ago. It’s the team that plays No. 5 Iowa Thursday at 8:07 p.m., and it’s trying to figure things out. History tells us Tom Izzo’s MSU teams figure things out, usually sooner than later.

“It’s the same Michigan State team,” Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon said Wednesday about the only Big Ten club the fifth-year senior’s team has never beaten since he’s been a Hawkeye.

“If I were to guess, they’ll probably be in the Final Four this year. You guys might think I’m crazy, but it’s Coach Izzo. They always a way to get to the Final Four.”

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Iowa is a decided favorite by bookmakers from Nevada and elsewhere, but the Hawkeyes (11-2, 5-1 Big Ten) are turning deaf ears to that.

“You know what you’re getting from Michigan State when you play them,” Iowa center Luka Garza said. “They’re going to be one of 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 a tougher team and winning the war on the boards.”

Michigan State will want to get Iowa’s Big Ten-leading offense in a half-court game as much as possible. It also will need stable play from its point guards, something that has been an issue.

Cassius Winston ran the Spartans’ offense in those last three championship seasons, averaging 16.7 points and 6.8 assists in that time and sinking 232 3-pointers. He’s now in the NBA.

Iowa has been in a great flow, with four straight wins. The last two were 89-67 at Maryland and 86-71 at home Sunday against Minnesota. All three of the Hawkeyes’ league home wins were by 15 points.

Entering Wednesday, Iowa led the nation in assists per game (21.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.11) and was sixth in fewest turnovers per possession.

A player in Izzo’s rotation won’t play because he tested positive for COVID-19. Freshman center Mady Sissoko, who played eight minutes in the Spartans’ loss at Purdue last Friday, tested positive as did sophomore walk-on Steven Izzo, the coach’s son. Sissoko and Steven Izzo are roommates.

Sissoko has played in 10 games, averaging 5.6 minutes.

Tom Izzo said Wednesday that he expected this game will be played Thursday. His team was scheduled to travel to Iowa on Wednesday night. Both teams will be tested for the coronavirus Thursday morning.

Tom Izzo was diagnosed with the virus last Nov. 9 and quarantined at home for two weeks.

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In other Hawkeye news, Iowa’s following game has a date change. The Hawkeyes will play Northwestern at 8 p.m. Sunday in Evanston, Ill., on BTN

It had been scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday. The Big Ten rescheduled it and five other conference games due to previously scheduled contests that were postponed due to health and safety concerns.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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