After a regular season that started on an air force base in Germany and ended with three straight tough losses followed by somewhat impressive wins, the Michigan State men’s basketball team begins their 2013 Big Ten tournament as the third seed, set to take on the sixth-seeded Iowa Hawkeyes at 9 PM ET. Iowa, which beat eleventh-seeded Northwestern yesterday in the opening round, 73-59, lost to Sparty earlier this season at home, 62-59.
In addition to finishing .500 in conference play, Iowa also played a weak nonconference schedule, losing to both ACC doormat Virginia Tech and MVC “power,” Wichita State. The Hawkeyes played fairly well down the stretch, winning 6 of their last 8, although one loss came at the hands of Nebraska. Guard-forward Roy Marble and forward Aaron White are key to Iowa’s success, and guard-forward Eric May is one of the Big Ten’s better reserves. A solid defensive team, Iowa will have to crash the boards and hope that junior forward Melsahn Basabe serves as an imposing presence in the paint.
Michigan State would also benefit from focusing on the defensive side of things, as they didn’t even allow 60 points per game this season. Offensively, the Spartans were hard to watch at times, especially when point guard Keith Appling had struggles in the latter half of the season. Bigs Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne became more reliable as the season progressed and frosh shooting guard Gary Harris grew more into his role as the team’s sniper, too. Those three consecutive tough defeats I mentioned earlier: A four-point home loss to Indiana, aided by missed free throws down the stretch, Ohio St. going on a 24-8 run in the second half to eventually pull away for an 8-point home victory, and a heartbreaking one-point loss on the road to Michigan, 58-57. Each of Sparty’s seven regular season losses were close games, and playing arguably the nation’s toughest schedule should help them during the conference and NCAA tournament, as well.
Sparty and Iowa’s last matchup, on January 10 of this year, was an ugly affair. The teams combined to go 7-27 from 3, 22-37 from the free-throw line and commit 30 turnovers as 8 players also registered at least 3 personal fouls. Iowa, a “bubble team,” needs more than a first-round win over NU to make the selection committee forget its weak nonconference schedule and .500 Big 10 record, which means they desperately need a win over MSU. Head coach Tom Izzo and his Spartans fought and clawed through a tough regular season, and now is the time when the program usually works its magic. The winner of this game plays tonight’s Ohio State-Nebraska winner. Iowa is a sneaky team, but I doubt they’ll be able to overcome a healthy Spartan squad fully geared up for a deep run in March. Go Green. Go White.