Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa men's basketball tries to get steady against strangely shaky Michigan State

No. 8 Iowa has lost its last 2 games. Michigan State has won 2 of 8 Big Ten contests.

Iowa men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery talks with Michigan State counterpart Tom Izzo before their teams played at C
Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery talks with Michigan State counterpart Tom Izzo before their teams played at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Feb. 6, 2018. (The Gazette)

This just doesn’t look right. Michigan State is 2-6 in Big Ten men’s basketball.

In league play, MSU is the lowest-scoring team, has been outscored by 8.3 points per game, has been out-rebounded, is 13th in field goal shooting and 14th in 3-point shooting, and has had the ball stolen almost twice as much as it has stolen it.

Yes, that Michigan State. The program that has won Big Ten regular-season titles in each of the previous three seasons and 10 overall under Tom Izzo, that never finished a season with a losing conference record in Izzo’s 26-year tenure as head coach, which includes eight Final Four trips.

Tuesday night at 6 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the Spartans play Iowa on the heels of their 67-37 loss at Rutgers last Thursday and a 79-62 defeat at Ohio State Sunday. They shot 28.6 and 32.1 percent from the field in those games, and were a combined 9-of-44 in 3-pointers.

No. 8 Iowa, a team with its first two-game losing streak of the season, has a chance to get well against, yes, Michigan State.

But overconfidence would be a foolish reaction, and Iowa’s players who spoke to the media Monday offered no evidence of possessing any.

“I think every team in our league still knows that Michigan State is one of the best teams in the country,” Iowa’s Luka Garza said.

“They’ve had a couple games that haven’t gone their way or they’ve had a couple games where they didn’t shoot the ball well or whatever the case may be. But we all know what Michigan State is and they are one of the best teams in this league no matter what their record says.”

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Before you shrug that off as a player trying to say the right things and come across as respectful rather than not, remember that Garza has reason to be respectful of the Spartans.

“I’ve never beaten Michigan State in my career here,” he said. “It’s the only team left in the Big Ten that I haven’t beat, so we’re motivated for this game.

“We know that this team is not a team that’s just kind of rolled over. They’re going to continue to get back up and throw punches. When you have a team coached by Tom Izzo, that’s what they’re going to do.”

Without having experienced winning since Jan. 17, the Hawkeyes have their own emotional pains to heal. They are going from playing games eight days apart to playing three times in six days. Almost as soon as the Spartans leave town, No. 7 Ohio State will come in for a game here Thursday. Then, the Hawkeyes play at Indiana Sunday.

“We’re extremely motivated after that loss (80-75 at Illinois last Friday) and back-to-back losses,” Hawkeye forward Joe Wieskamp said. “We feel this is a great opportunity for us to get three wins this week.”

The Spartans, Wieskamp said Monday, “have our full focus.”

“We know the type of talent they have and we’ve really got to prepare well for this one, because it’s going to be a dogfight.”

Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said there was a chance guard CJ Fredrick would return to action Tuesday after missing the Illinois game. If Fredrick can’t play, freshman forward Keegan Murray will make a second-straight start.

“Our whole team has a chip on our shoulder,” Murray said.

“We’re highly motivated right now.”

Comments: (319) 398-8440; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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