Two of the five teams tied for second place in the Big Ten will square off on Tuesday night when the No. 18 Iowa Hawkeyes visit the No. 24 Michigan State Spartans. Both teams are currently 10-6 in league play and tied with Illinois, Penn State and Wisconsin, two games behind first-place Maryland.
Iowa comes into this game on a two-game winning streak, including a victory over No. 25 Ohio State last Thursday. Michigan State is also coming off a victory, routing Nebraska on the road, but the Spartans have dropped four of their last six games, including their last two home contests.
Michigan State is a 7.5-point favorite at home, with the over/under set at 151.5.
Big Man On Campus
There was a thought that the Big Ten would have the national Player of the Year this season, but it was thought it would be the Spartans’ Cassius Winston, not Iowa’s Luka Garza. But the 6-11 junior has been dominant this season, leading the Big Ten in scoring at 23.7 points per game. Garza can also hit the boards (9.6 rebounds) and play some defense (1.7 blocks).
Garza is difficult to stop, scoring 20-plus points in 12 straight conference games. But Michigan State has a deep front line with various defenders that can either body Garza on the interior like Xavier Tillman or use size against him like Marcus Bingham Jr.
What has made Iowa so good this season offensively — the Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten in scoring with 78.5 points per game — is the team play it has employed. The Hawkeyes are second in the conference in assists per game, dishing out 17.3 per contest. Guiard Joe Wieskamp is a big key as well, averaging 14.9 points and hitting 50 three-pointers on the season.
Back On Track
Although it was against Nebraska, the Spartans’ last game showed the potential this team has offensively. Five players scored in double figures, led by Winston’s 23 points and six assists. Winston is the catalyst for Michigan State, pacing the team in scoring (18.3 points) and assists (5.7) but also coming up with the clutch play when the team needs it.
Tillman has become an offensive threat on the interior, averaging 13.6 points and 10.3 rebounds, but it’s the supporting cast that will determine how far the Spartans go. Against the Cornhuskers, Gabe Brown had a career-high 17 points, including four three-pointers, while Aaron Henry had 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists. If those two can be more consistent, Michigan State will be hard to beat.
An X-factor for Michigan State is forward Kyle Ahrens. The senior had 14 points against Nebraska, including four three-pointers, to go with seven rebounds. Ahrens is a physical defender whose tenacity can be contageous, though it often leads to injuries for him as well.
Spartans Win Close One
Michigan State can get on a roll at home, though it has struggled to put teams away lately, blowing leads against Penn State and Maryland in the final minutes. Iowa has too much firepower to get blown out in this one, though I don’t see the Hawkeyes winning it, considering they are 3-22 at the Breslin Center all-time. Take Iowa +7.5 to keep it close.