Setting the Stage
It's Tuesday afternoon, which means it will soon be Tuesday evening. The ACC is going to take center stage on Saturday night thanks to their sexy Duke vs. Syracuse game going up against our conference's Iowa vs. Illinois "contest." Maybe it's still tough to win in Champaigne, but the Illini are giving Rayvonte Rice zero help right now.
Anyway, the point is that Tuesday night is the Big Ten's night. Iowa is the up-and-coming team that Fran McCaffery has built into a powerhouse seemingly overnight. The Hawkeyes defy Big Ten stereotypes by featuring a fast-paced offense and forwards that would rater run the floor than post up under the basket.
This is where it is supposed to say that Michigan State represents the "old school" part of the conference, but that isn't really true. Tom Izzo's squad loves to break out in transition, especially since Gary Harris has developed into one of the scariest open-floor players in the league. With Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne on the sidelines with injuries, the Spartans have only become more reliant on the guard contingent of Harris and Keith Appling. They now look more like an NBA squad that an old MSU team that just bludgeons everyone with their enormous forwards.
Links From People Who Know Things
Gillian Van Stratt of MLive.com realizes that the guys playing in place of Dawson and Payne are stiffs, so Michigan State needs other guys to step up.
"I think Valentine and Trice are two big keys to the next couple of games," coach Tom Izzo said Monday at his weekly press conference. "As Denzel said to me, 'with our lineup the way that it is, we can't win if I score two points.'"
"Stiffs" might have been a little harsh (my words, not hers). I think Costello did a good job on the glass against Michigan, and Gavin Schilling showed some athleticism with a couple of nice blocks. Izzo is still right about Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice, though. The two were considered key players when the Spartans were relatively healthy, so they can't fade into the background now that the team really needs them. If Harris wasn't being completely awesome last Saturday, the game would have been much uglier for MSU.
Speaking of Harris, here's what Izzo said about him in his press conference this week:
If Harris isn't the best player on both ends of the court in the league, God bless whoever is.
A Bold claim by the coach, but I believe it right now. Harris has been dominant on offense lately with three-straight 20-point games, and his defense on Saturday night was incredible. He did a great job denying Nik Stauskas the ball, and that would have won the game for MSU if Derrick Walton Jr. didn't step up with 19 crucial points.
By the way, Payne is "doubtful" according to Izzo for tonight's game. A likely return date is February 6 against (of course!) Penn State. At least Payne's presence will make it tougher for Harris to score 50 points on the Nits.
Meanwhile, Pat Harty of HawkCentral.com feels that the recent demolition of Northwestern was Iowa's most impressive win of the season so far. Wait, what?
Saturday's 76-50 victory at Welsh-Ryan Arena stands above the rest because of the difficult circumstances. The game had letdown written all over it being that it was sandwiched between Wednesday's 75-67 loss against Big Ten leader Michigan on the road and this coming Tuesday's game against Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa hasn't beaten one of the top four Big Ten contenders yet, but I still think its wins over Ohio State and Minnesota are more impressive than beating Northwestern on the road, no matter how well the Wildcats were playing on defense. Maybe in prior years the fact that Iowa didn't trip up in a "trap game" would impress me, but this team has enough talent to win every game it plays, even when the "circumstances" dictate a difficult narrative. Let's stop treating them with kid gloves, okay?
Michigan State actually impressed me on Saturday. I thought that they would lose if Payne wouldn't play, and that's exactly what happened. However, the Spartans were in control for most of the game and the Wolverines needed a lights-out shooting performance to come out on top. If Harris is able to defend Roy Devyn Marble the way he defended Stauskas, I think Sparty will come out on top despite being five-point underdogs.