The last time Michigan State played Iowa this season, Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery picked up a chair and slammed it down on the court during a time-out.
He was mad. His team was in the process of getting blown off the floor at the Breslin Center. MSU won, 95-61. It may not have been that close. The Spartans shot 61.7 percent from the field and 55 percent from three-point range. and they held Iowa to 35% shooting overall.
Perhaps even more frustrating was that MSU had 16 steals and turned the game into a track meet. This helped explain the lights-out shooting.
“But the other thing they did,” said McCaffery, “was they beat us up. They really took us out of what we wanted to do. So it was a combination of both. It was an incredibly concentrated effort at both ends of the floor. That’s why it was a 30-point game. So obviously we’re going to have to do a much better job.”
Iowa is 17-15 and 8-10 in the conference. Short of a title here in Indianapolis on Sunday, the Hawkeyes aren’t expected to play in the NCAA tournament next week.
In other words, said Iowa leading scorer Matt Gatens, “We are playing for our lives.”
The Hawkeyes beat Illinois, 64-61, on Thursday behind 20 points from Gatens. And though MSU hung a 34-point win on them back in January, Iowa has won four of its last six games, including wins over Wisconsin and Indiana.
The Hawkeyes also beat Michigan earlier in the season, so they are capable of playing with anyone. This is what worries MSU coach Tom Izzo. Normally, he said, when a team earns a No. 1 seed it can be almost guaranteed of making the semifinals. But with the depth of the league this year, he said, “I think they are all gonna be hard.”
Izzo said adding to the challenge is that MSU played Iowa only once this season, almost two months ago. So the Spartans don’t have a great feel for the Hawkeyes. Throw in the desperation that Iowa should play with along with the loss of MSU forward Branden Dawson and the game could be quite competitive.
Then again, MSU should be motivated, too. Not only did the Spartans lose Dawson to a season-ending ACL injury, they lost the outright title Sunday when Ohio State’s William Buford hit a 19-footer with 1 second left. Izzo called it the toughest loss of his career.
He wants to remove that taste. Winning a few games this weekend would help do that.
“I am looking forward to it,” he said.
So is Draymond Green, the senior All-America forward who is quite familiar with MSU’s struggles over the years in this tournament.
“(Winning the tournament is) something that we haven’t been able to accomplish in 11 years, so you want to be that team break that drought and leave a footprint in the sand,” he said.