Welcome to one of the bigger, better games of the college basketball season. No. 7/6 Michigan State visits No. 15/12 Iowa at 6 tonight on ESPN. It's part of the network's "Super Tuesday" series, which visits Iowa City next week as well.
Michigan State (18-2, 7-1) is second in the Big Ten, while Iowa (16-4, 5-2) is third. Both teams are behind Michigan (15-4, 7-0) and each lost to the Wolverines last week.
Michigan State leads the series 68-53 and have won the last six in the series. That streak includes three consecutive Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal losses for Iowa. Last year's 59-56 Michigan State win was the toughest loss for Iowa under Fran McCaffery. It cost the Hawkeyes an NCAA tournament berth.
Iowa's last win against the Spartans was 72-52 in McCaffery's first game against the Spartans. That was during a snowstorm on Feb. 2, 2011. Otherwise Michigan State has won 11 of 12.
"What’s crazy is we won by 20," Iowa guard Devyn Marble said. "That’s what I think was so miraculous about that night. But we’ve come a long way. We have."
Iowa leads the Big Ten in scoring at 85.2 points a game. Michigan State ranks second at 79.7 points. The teams also rank in the top two in scoring margin (19.1 for Iowa, 15.0 for Michigan State), field-goal defense (Iowa 37.6, Michigan State 38.2) and assists (Michigan State 17.8, Iowa 16.9). Iowa leads the league in rebounds (44.0) while Michigan State is fourth (39.0).
Michigan State guard Gary Harris leads the Big Ten with 18.8 points a game. Marble is ninth with 16.1 points.
In league games, Harris lead the Big Ten in scoring at 19.9 points a game and teammate Keith Appling is eighth at 14.5 points. Marble ranks fifth at 17.4 points.
Appling and Harris present several challenges to Iowa's back court.
"Probably the most challenging yet outside of Ohio State maybe, and Ohio State was more defensively challenging to our offense, their defense," Marble said. "It’s going to be on both sides (tonight). I think you’ve got to jump on them early like we did in the Big Ten Tournament. We were in a position right where we wanted to be, but we just let it slip away."
Iowa guard Anthony Clemmons and Michigan State guard/forward Denzel Valentine grew up as best friends and teammates at Lansing Sexton. Valentine's family will make the trip, and Clemmons is excited to see them.
"I actually haven't talked to him in a while time so the next time I shake his hand it should be fun," Clemmons said.
Clemmons has hit a sophomore slump on the court. He's played 11 minutes or less in each of the last six games and has scored just one point over than span. He appears less confident and averages just 3.3 points a game.
"He hasn't played as well as he was," McCaffery said. "His minutes have been curtailed, and that's a tough thing for me because I know the one thing that would help him is to play him more and sort of let him play through some of his mistakes, but the way Josh Oglesby has been playing that's been hard to justify. Josh has sort of been the guy that's gotten those extra minutes, and it's affected Anthony Clemmons without question.
"You're seeing it, I think, in his offense in particular. He's not shooting the ball -- forget about not shooting the ball well, he's not shooting the ball much. It's not like he's shooting poorly. He hasn't really taken many shots in the last three or four games, and he was a guy you could rely on to score the ball. We've just got to continue to encourage him to play up to his capabilities and be ready when his name is called."
Clemmons still is a valued teammate despite his slump.
"I've always been that type of guy, winning, the team comes first," Clemmons said. "It's frustrating, but I've just got to take it day-by-day and get better each and every day.
Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo, the Big Ten's dean of coaches, is impressed with Iowa.
"I said at the beginning of the year I thought they’d be my surprise pick and not a big surprise," Izzo said. "When you’ve got two or three guys that have started coming off the bench, it’s going to make for a pretty good team."
"Fran does a great job of coaching them, and I think they’re definitely one of the top teams in the league and in the country."
Izzo expects an electric atmosphere from sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He takes pride when people have discussed this as the most important regular-season game in Iowa City since maybe 2006.
"I think it’s a badge of honor, I think it’s a compliment, one that even though has some tough spots to work around," Izzo said. "I think it’s position I’d like to be in a lot. I have great respect for them, I have great respect for Franny. They’ve done it the right way. They’ve stayed the course, absorbed some tough losses over the years and he’s got a veteran team that plays the way he wants to play with his intensity and they play hard and they play quick. Hopefully we’re going to be up to the task."
IOWA CITY -- With a late surge guided by Melsahn Basabe, Iowa took a 30-26 halftime lead.
Basabe scored on three consecutive possessions in the final two minutes and scored six points. Devyn Marble scored on a drive with 3 seconds left in the half to provide the four-point halftime edge.
Iowa hit 9 of 22 from the floor (40.9 percent), while Michigan State shot 9 of 28 (32.1 percent). The Hawkeyes outrebounded Michigan State 21-14, but MSU stayed in the game with four 3-pointers. Iowa missed all four 3-point attempts.Devyn Marble led all scorers with eight points. Basabe and Aaron White each added six. Michigan State's Denzel Valentine led the Spartans with six points.