Three Keys for Iowa in Its Rematch with Michigan State Tonight

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 14th, 2016

Iowa shocked the college basketball world when it easily knocked off #1 Michigan State in Iowa City two weeks ago. For the rematch in East Lansing tonight, the Spartans will be at full strength, with NPOY candidate Denzel Valentine back in the lineup. Most pundits don’t give Iowa much of a chance to pull off the sweep, but let’s take a look at what the Hawkeyes need to do to move to 4-0 in Big Ten play this evening.

Michigan State will have Denzel Valentine back in uniform for their rematch against Iowa. (Jim Rohash, AP)

Michigan State will have Denzel Valentine back in uniform for its rematch against Iowa. (Jim Rohash, AP)

  1. Don’t Let Valentine Break Their Hearts: The senior Big Ten Player of the Year candidate was clearly rusty in his return game against Penn State on Sunday — shooting 4-of-11 from the floor and 1-of-6 from deep in only 23 minutes of action. Iowa did a great job in holding the Spartans in check from the perimeter in the teams’ first meeting (3-of-13 from three-point range), but it will have to do so here with another big-time shooter to worry about. One key will be how Iowa handles Bryn Forbes. The Hawkeyes held the senior to only three points in their late December meeting, but he has since heated back up (13-of-23 from three). Iowa’s three-point defense is nearly as good as Michigan State’s three-point offense, so whichever unit gets the advantage here will hold a key card in which team wins the game.
  2. Stop the Fast Break: Michigan State is deep, athletic and at its best when the Spartans can get out and run. They are the fourth best defensive rebounding team in the nation and have a point guard in Lourawls Nairn who loves to run the break. This combination along with a knack for sharing the ball (72.6 percent of field goals are assisted) makes Sparty’s transition game lethal. In the half-court, however, Nairn’s 39.6% eFG is a liability. Because he poses no threat beyond 12 feet, the Hawkeyes can keep an extra body inside or spy on Valentine and Forbes if either player heats up. Iowa’s best chance to win in East Lansing depends on preventing Michigan State from turning the game into a track meet.
  3. Get Something From the Bench: Iowa’s depth was viewed as a strength in pre-conference play. Since then, however, Fran McCaffery has reduced his rotation to around eight players. With Anthony Clemmons potentially hobbled with a hip injury, Nicholas Baer, Ahmad Wagner and Dom Uhl must contribute something. They’ve all had their moments this season, but a solid effort is needed from each to counteract Michigan State’s exceptional depth. Jarrod Uthoff and the other seniors will play the bulk of the minutes, but Iowa’s bench needs to hold its own against the Spartans’ substitutes.
Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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