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The Opening Tip: CJ Fredrick Remains Questionable for MSU Matchup

February 24, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa heads into its biggest game to date unsure if it will have one of its best players. Coach Fran McCaffery is listing CJ Fredrick’s availability as questionable for Tuesday’s matchup with Michigan State in East Lansing.

“We’re still not sure. We’re still working on it,” McCaffery said during a Monday morning teleconference.

The freshman guard has missed the team’s last two games after severely spraining his ankle early in a loss at Indiana on Feb. 13. He prepared to play Thursday against Ohio State but could not go.

He’ll test the ankle at practice Monday afternoon and again Tuesday before the game.

“You have to balance his eagerness with sensibility,” McCaffery said. “We’re not going to run him out there until he’s 100 percent. He’s a lot farther along than he was a couple of days ago.”

Here’s a closer look at Tuesday’s contest in The Opening Tip:

TIME, TV: 6 p.m CT on ESPN2 with Dave Flemming, Dan Dakich, and Molly McGrath on the call.

RECORDS, RANKINGS: Iowa comes in at 19-8 overall and 10-6 in the Big Ten, while Michigan State stands at 18-9, 10-6. The Hawkeyes are 18th in the AP and 17th in the Coaches Poll. The Spartans are 24th both polls.

THE COMPUTERS: Iowa checks in at No. 27 in NET, 21 in Sagarin and 22 in Ken Pom through Tuesday’s action. Michigan State comes in at 13, 13 and eight.

POINT SPREAD: Michigan State is a 7.5-point favorite with a total of 151.

HISTORY LESSON: Michigan State holds a 75-55 advantage over Iowa in the series. The Spartans have won 13 of the last 15 meetings, dating back to 2011. Iowa snapped a nine-game losing skid in 2015, sweeping the season series. Michigan State won last season’s two contests: 90-68 in East Lansing and 82-67 in Iowa City.

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The Spartans hold a 45-18 advantage in games played in East Lansing. Iowa snapped an 18-game losing streak at East Lansing, Michigan, with an impressive 76-59 win on Jan. 14, 2016, inside the Breslin Center. Iowa is 3-22 all-time at the Breslin Center.

NEXT: Iowa plays host to Penn State Saturday at 11 a.m. CT.

SCOUTING THE SPARTANS: I know what you’re thinking. This Michigan State team seems off. It’s vulnerable. Iowa has a chance. Then you remember all of the disappointments from past trips to East Lansing.

The Hawkeyes have won once there since 1993, when they captured an emotional victory following the passing of Chris Street. That came in ’16 when Peter Jok scored 23 points and Iowa ended an 18-game skid at Michigan State. It’s lost the last two at the Breslin Center.

The Spartans began the season No. 1 in the country according to AP. They’ve not looked like a Top 10 team. They’ve lost to Penn State and Maryland in their last two home games.

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MSU still boasts one of the country’s best point guards in reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, Cassius Winston. He ranks third in the conference in scoring (18.3 PPG) and fourth in assists (5.7 APG). He’s second in steals (1.3 SPG), first in free throw shooting (87.0 percent) and second in three-point percentage (39.6).

Power forward Xavier Tillman plays Robin to Winston’s Batman. His 10.3 rebounds a game rank third in the league, and he kicks in 13.6 points.

The Spartans have lacked a consistent third option, leading to some of their struggles this season. Aaron Henry (9.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG) has filled that role at times. Gabe Brown and Rocket Watts also have enjoyed good times. But this squad has missed guys like Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins from last year’s Final Four squad.

Don’t get it twisted, however. It’s a good team. It’s just not living up to the preseason hype or the high standards it’s set for itself.

MSU still leads the conference in scoring margin (+11.4), field goal percentage defense (37.5), three-point percentage defense (28.7), assists (17.7) and blocked shots (5.1). It’s second in rebounding margin (+8.1).

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KenPom.com rates the Spartans No. 14 nationally in adjusted defense and puts them 18th in adjusted offense. The site’s analysis accounts for the ball bouncing against them this season, putting them at No. 276 in his Luck metric.

KEYS FOR HAWKEYES: Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has a way with working officials. Iowa center Luka Garza, the conference’s top player this year, needs to avoid any spots where he can be called for a questionable foul. You can bet Izzo will make the referees aware of any tendencies.

Beyond that, the Hawkeyes need their role players continuing to gain and contribute. Three-point looks will be there for Connor McCaffery, Joe Toussaint and Bakari Evelyn. They need to knock some down and add to the efforts on the backboards.

TIP-INS

-Tuesday will be the only regular season match-up against Michigan State. The Hawkeyes are 4-1 this year in one-plays, beating Ohio State, Rutgers, Wisconsin, and Northwestern.

-Garza has scored 20+ points in 12 straight Big Ten games, the longest streak by a Hawkeye since Fred Brown (13) in 1971 and most by any Big Ten player over the last 20 years. Garza has scored 21+ points in 16-of-17 Big Ten games this season. His 641 points are most by an Iowa junior and fifth most in a single-season.

-Iowa leads the Big Ten in scoring offense (78.5); the Hawkeyes led the conference in scoring two of the last six previous seasons, including last year. In Big Ten games only, Iowa leads the league in scoring (77.0), field goal percentage (.450), and assists (16.6).

– Fran McCaffery is one victory from leading Iowa to another 20-win season. McCaffery has guided Iowa to 20 wins or more in five of the last seven seasons and upper division finishes in the Big Ten six of the last seven seasons. Only Michigan State (7) has more first division finishes than Iowa (6) and Wisconsin (6) since the 2013 season.

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