CHICAGO — Now it gets really big for Iowa.
It’s not too hyperbolic to suggest the entire season is at stake for the sixth-seeded Hawkeyes (21-11) Friday in a battle with third-seeded Michigan State (24-7, 13-5 Big Ten) in a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal at the United Center. A win against the No. 8 Spartans could lift Iowa to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006. A loss could send the Hawkeyes to the NIT for the second straight season.
“I’m not foolish, I hear what everybody’s saying about that particular game,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “To me, I am very comfortable with where our resume is right now. I think we deserve to be in. But, there are so many factors and I respect whatever the committee decides. There are a lot of other really good teams. The only thing that we can control is how we play (today). That’s how we’re going to approach it. It’s not something that we even talk about.”
Iowa’s players have sensed the excitement of Friday’s game and many have called it the most important under McCaffery.
“I’m glad people are getting excited about this,” Iowa senior Eric May said. “They should be. I think we’re giving them reason to be.
“Every game this season has been a big game. Especially in the Big Ten. So for us to be in this position, it would really be ‑‑ for people to be excited and just how much things have changed is really encouraging. It shows what we have been doing and the work we have been putting in and the results we’re getting from that work.”
The Hawkeyes have lost five straight to the Spartans, including a 62-59 heartbreaker earlier this season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa led by 12 points late in the first half and 56-53 with 1:04 left in the game. Iowa’s Aaron White was called for a foul on Michigan State guard Gary Harris attempting a 3-pointer. Harris then knocked down all three free throws to tie the game.
Two possessions later, Michigan State’s Brandon Dawson stole a Mike Gesell pass at midcourt and scored the game-leading dunk at 58-56 with 48 seconds left. Iowa missed four of eight free throws in the final 1:34. It was the only meeting between the teams this season.
Michigan State beat Iowa the last two seasons in Big Ten Tournament play. Two years ago, the Spartans won 66-61 in a first-round match-up. Last year, the eventual tournament champion Spartans rolled the Hawkeyes 92-75. It was the most points scored by a Big Ten team in tournament history.
The Spartans are led by Harris, the Big Ten’s freshman of the fear, who averaged 13.2 points a game. Harris and forward Adreian Payne were named second-team all-Big Ten by league media. Point guard Keith Appling (13.5 points per game) was a third-team all-Big Ten selection.
The teams have met five times in the Big Ten Tournament, and Michigan State owns a 3-2 mark.
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