Two Key Questions as Michigan State Visits Iowa Tonight

Posted by Jonathan Batuello and Deepak Jayanti on January 28th, 2014

Michigan State took its first conference loss as it tries to overcome numerous key injuries. Iowa has proven it is one of the best teams in the Big Ten. Now the second and third place teams in the conference are set to square off this evening in Iowa City. Two of our Big Ten writers – Deepak Jayanti and Jonathan Batuello – address a couple of key questions heading into the battle for second place in the Big Ten standings.

Devyn Marble

Devyn Marble Looks to Lead the Hawkeyes to Second Place in the Big Ten

With Branden Dawson out and Adreian Payne’s status still uncertain, how does Michigan State limit the Hawkeyes’ rebounding – where it averages 10 more a game than its opponents – and their inside play?

DJ: They can’t limit Iowa’s rebounding without Payne and Dawson in the lineup. Even with one of those two forwards, they’d have to put up a fight to contain the multiple big men that Fran McCaffery uses in the paint. Aaron White, Gabrial Olaseni and Melsahn Basabe are not only good rebounders, but they are also very nimble around the paint – they move very well for their size. It is unfortunate that we can’t see the Spartans’ bigs battle this Iowa front line because the Hawkeyes’ depth keeps their less talented big men fresh. And I am not even including Adam Woodbury, a seven-footer, in this discussion. The best case scenario for the Spartans tonight is to limit the Hawkeyes’ offensive boards to five; otherwise, it will be very tough for them to give up too many easy baskets and still outscore the Hawkeyes on the other end. Expect to see Denzel Valentine play over 30 minutes because his directive would be to hit the defensive glass on every possession to make up for the absence of Dawson.

JB: Michigan State will struggle to limit the Hawkeyes from getting rebounds, but the Spartans have been strong at defensive rebounding all season. Sparty grabs 72 percent of its defensive rebounds, which is good enough for third in the conference, against Iowa’s 39 offensive rebounding percent (which is second). Michigan State will have a tough choice here by either sending its guards to crash the glass or leaving them out to begin the break. It won’t be an easy decision for Izzo because Iowa will bring the better team on the inside in this game. It is likely that Izzo’s strategy will be to give up some fast break points in order to to try and limit Iowa’s rebounding, but how effective that is could be the determining factor in this game.

These teams are both high-powered offenses – the top two in the Big Ten in scoring and among the top three in field goal percentage – so can we expect a track meet to break out or will one team try to slow it down here?

DJ: Seventy possessions is a possibility for this game if the Hawkeyes dominate the offensive glass, because by giving up those easy buckets, the Spartans will need to try to push the ball to pick up some easy transition baskets using Gary Harris and Keith Appling. On the flip side, if each team holds the defensive glass – a big concern for Michigan State – then the tempo of the game will be slower. Setting aside the rebounding disparity, it’ll be very tough for the Spartans to contain Devyn Marble, especially without Dawson available. With a healthy team, I would expect Dawson and Valentine to take turns chasing Marble around the court, but the burden will fall squarely on Valentine tonight. And if Valentine is busy chasing around Marble, it is unlikely that he’ll be able to cover the defensive glass, opening up opportunities for the Iowa big men to dominate. I’m not even sure if there is a designated forward who can contain White on defense – a mismatch that that will heavily favor the Hawkeyes. Expect to see Marble out on the perimeter, trying to pull Valentine away from the basket so that White can dominate Costello in the paint. Long story short, the Hawkeyes shouldn’t have any trouble scoring at home.

JB: This game will be fast and Michigan State needs it to be that way to have a chance. If Iowa grinds and plays a slow, methodical game inside where it takes mostly high percentage shots, Michigan State will lose. Without their key guys inside, the Spartans will have to own the game with its guards. Gary Harris and Keith Appling will have to play in a faster and higher gear than normal, while staying efficient with their shot selection and decision-making. Michigan State will have the tough choice as to whether to have guards crash to help with rebounding, but don’t expect them to bring the ball up slowly regardless. The Spartans will hope for missed shots and will take off, hoping to break Iowa’s distinct size advantage inside by getting fast break opportunities and transition 3-pointers (where it has hit a strong 38.6 percent this season). If the Spartans don’t win the battle of fast break points by a healthy margin or hit at around a 40 percent clip from outside, this game will be a blowout win for Iowa.

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