|Who:||Michigan State Spartans vs. Iowa Hawkeyes|
|When:||Thursday Jan 8, 7:00 p.m. ET|
|Where:||Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, IA|
|KenPom Rank:||Michigan State - 17; Iowa - 35|
|KenPom Line:||Iowa -1|
We're almost through the first full week of conference play and there a couple things we can recognize already
- Write Wisconsin in sharpie atop the conference. They may drop a game or two (cough..Iowa...cough...Maryland), but this is clearly the class of the Big Ten this year.
- Iowa and Maryland are the best match ups to give the Badgers losses this year. Iowa returns eight of their top 11 guys in terms of minutes per game last year and Maryland is as hot as any team in the country at the half way point. What both of these teams have are big men that can pull Frank Kaminsky away from the basket on offense and guards that can win a lot of one-on-one battles. Pencil these two at the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in the conference, but they'll fight each other the entire year for the higher seed.
- 4-11 can be picked out of a hat and make a legitimate argument why they should be in that spot. The three teams at 0-2 in the Big Ten (Illinois, Minnesota and Penn State) all have a least 10 wins so there's still time to turn things around in the middle of a logjam. This isn't the typical Big Ten, however, where depth triumphs top-heavy talent. There's a lot of average ball clubs and mediocre basketball that's not quite up to the Big Ten's usual standards.
- Don't give up on Ohio State. Personnel and talent wise, this is the second best team in the Big Ten. I don't know who suggested to Thad that going to a 2-3 zone system and handicapping the best on-the-ball defender in the country, Shannon Scott, was a good idea but hopefully that ship has sailed after they ran through Illinois at home last week. This team still has a good nucleus of young talent and experienced veterans to give Maryland and Iowa a run for their money.
I've seen a lot of bad basketball in my day. Most of it centered around Penn State wins, ironically enough, but last week's first half of Maryland/Michigan State is right up there. Thank goodness for two overtimes and a bunch of Melo Trimble free throws or that could have been an uproar of disappointment. Maryland proved its worth though and Michigan State has a lot trouble when Branden Dawson isn't 100 percent or Denzel Valentine can't make shots.
Tale Of The Tape
Michigan State (10-5, 1-1 Big Ten)
Michigan State loves to share the basketball. Being sixth in the country in assists per game and with four guys scoring over 10 points per game prove that. The only question I still have is who does this team turn to when they desperately need a bucket? I still favor senior Travis Trice in that position based off his increased production this year and ability to play off the bounce, but this team looks slow out of sorts offensively. In a conference known for its low scoring affairs, this problem needs to get solved soon. I still trust Izzo to figure that out.
Player to watch: Senior F Branden Dawson (10.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.0 apg)
It's clear Dawson still isn't any where close to completely healthy from his wrist injury. Multiple times in the Maryland game he tried spinning back in the lane using his injured hand and simply couldn't handle the basketball. One thing you'll always see out of Dawson is his intense ability to grab offensive rebounds. Whether it's with one or two hands, the guy is like Kenneth Faried on the glass and can still make his presence felt that way.
Iowa (11-4, 2-0 Big Ten)
This team is second on my "Most fun team's to watch in the Big Ten" only behind Bo Ryan's bunch. Watch how crisp every pass is and the cutting/screening away from the basketball the next time you watch Iowa because it's spectacular. This is a team that's looking to add to their two quality wins at North Carolina and at Ohio State and start building a quality resume. This is a No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the tournament the way they've looked early in the season.
In every Iowa win this year except for one, they've held opponents under 70 points. The Hawkeyes are masters in being able to take teams out of their element and play a much slower game.
Player to watch: Junior F Jarrod Uthoff (11.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.0 apg)
Uthoff has undeniably exceeded expectations by stepping into a starting role this year. He's a better outside shooter than Aaron White and has complemented him to a great degree so far. Uthoff will more than likely draw Valentine as a match up for most of the game and if Uthoff can use his creativity coming off screens and potentially get him in foul trouble, that will pay dividends for an Iowa team trying to dictate the pace.
PREDICTION: Iowa 64, Michigan State 57
I'm waiting for Michigan State to turn the corner and announce they're the same Michigan State we've gotten to know over the years, but doing it at Carver-Hawkeye won't be an easy task. Senior guard Mike Gesell has an assist/turnover ratio at 2.1 and I expect him to take better care of the basketball and orchestrate the Iowa offense against a Michigan State team that averages 5.8 steals per game.
Other Big Ten games to watch this week:
Tuesday, Jan 6
- 22) Ohio State at Minnesota
Wednesday, Jan 7
- 11) Maryland at Illinois
Saturday, Jan 10
- 22) Ohio State at Indiana
- Minnesota at Michigan
Sunday, Jan 11
- Illinois at Nebraska