Open Look: Hawkeyes Look to Get Back on Track Against No. 9 Michigan St.

December 2, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Game No. 2 of 20 in the Big Ten isn’t a must-win for Iowa. It’s really, really important, however.

The No. 14 Hawkeyes head to ninth-ranked Michigan State Monday (5:30 p.m. CT, FS1) trying to avoid an 0-2 start. They’re coming off a tough 72-66 home loss against No. 22 Wisconsin on Friday.

Despite the setback, the Iowa players aren’t discouraged. They’re looking forward to the challenge in East Lansing.

“We played hard. We fought. And it’s a great team (Wisconsin) that came into this building,” Iowa forward Tyler Cook said after the game. “It always hurts when you have a chance to win down the stretch. A couple of things we did or didn’t go that pretty much decided the game.

“It’s frustrating. It’s also encouraging at the same time. We’re right there against another great ranked team. We’ve just got to figure out a way to seal the deal. It’s early. We’re 6-1 and we have another good opportunity to bounce back on Monday against Michigan State.”

It won’t be easy.

The Spartans (6-2 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) have won 11 of the last 13 meetings in this series, dating back to 2011. Michigan State edged the Hawkeyes in Iowa City, 96-93, in last season’s only meeting. Iowa is 3-21 at the Breslin Center, which opened in 1989-90. Lansing. Iowa snapped an 18-game losing streak there with a 76-59 win on Jan.
14, 2016.

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“We talked about it after the game – the good, the bad, challenged some guys,” Hawkeye coach Fran McCaffery said about the quick turnaround. “Overall, I was impressed with our fight. It wasn’t a thing of beauty. We didn’t make some plays coming down the stretch we would like to have made, and they did. That’s why they won.

“So you treat it like any other situation: You review the film. You make your teaching points. You move on to Michigan State.”

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The Spartans’ two losses have come against No. 2 Kansas by five points in the season opener and at unranked Louisville by four. They’ve beaten UCLA and Texas, and Rutgers in Friday’s Big Ten opener.

They are replacing standouts in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges, both Top 12 NBA draft picks, from last year’s Big Ten regular-season championship squad. Like usually is the case, hall of fame coach Tom Izzo still boasts plenty of veteran and new talent.

Junior point guard Cassius Winston, the league’s top assist man, leads MSU in scoring (17.9 PPG) and assists (7.1 APG), which leads the Big Ten. Joshua Langford (17.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG) and Nick Ward (14.6, 5.6) also are returning starters. Rotation pieces Matt McQuaid (7.3 PPG) and Kenny Goins (10.0 RPG) are back as well.

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Freshman Xavier Tillman, a four-star from Grand Rapids, ranks second on the Spartans in rebounding (7.6) to go along with 7.0 points. Classmate Aaron Henry (5.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG) also is in the rotation.

This matchup features the top two scoring teams in the Big Ten. Michigan State leads the league at 86.9 PPG. The Hawkeyes are next at 82.6. The Spartans are yielding 68.8 PPG, which is 11th in the conference, while Iowa at 72.0 is 13th.

After Monday’s game, the teams will head back into non-conference play. Iowa plays host to Iowa State on Thursday and won’t return to Big Ten action until Jan. 3 at Purdue.

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