Hawkeyes taking struggling Spartans seriously ahead of rescheduled matchup

Michigan State is typically a Big Ten power. But not this season.


Kate Heston-Daily Iowan via Imag

Friday, Jan. 29, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Iowa Center Luka Garza (55) shoots a three as Illinois Forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili (15) defends him during the Iowa v. Illinois basketball game at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit:

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

The Iowa men’s basketball team waited eight days in between games prior to its matchup with Illinois. Now, the Hawkeyes play three games in six days.

First up in that loaded stretch is Tuesday’s 6 p.m. game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena against Michigan State, a team Iowa wouldn’t typically want to play coming off a two-game losing skid. Iowa has lost 19 of its last 22 games in the series, with its last win against Michigan State coming in 2016. But these Spartans aren’t their typically dominant selves.

Tom Izzo’s program, which has won the Big Ten regular season title each of the past three seasons, currently sits at 8-6 overall and 2-6 in the conference. The Spartans are the lowest-scoring team in the Big Ten in conference play and could be on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1996-97 season.

That seemingly bodes well for Iowa (12-4 overall, 6-3 Big Ten), which is on its first two-game losing streak of the season and seeking to bounce back.

Still, Michigan State has No. 8 Iowa’s full attention. And for good reason.

“I’ve never beaten Michigan State in my career here,” Iowa center Luka Garza, a senior, said. “It’s the only team left in the Big Ten that I haven’t beat, so we’re motivated for this game.

“We know that this team is not a team that’s just kind of rolled over. They’re going to continue to get back up and throw punches. When you have a team coached by Tom Izzo, that’s what they’re going to do… They’ll get it going at some point. We’re trying to make sure it’s not [Tuesday].”

The Spartans and the Hawkeyes were originally set to compete on Jan. 14, but positive COVID-19 tests within the Michigan State program forced the game’s postponement.

Since then, Iowa has had struggles of its own.

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The Hawkeyes suffered their first home loss of the season on Jan. 21 to Indiana, then followed that up by losing to Illinois in Champaign on Jan. 29.

Starting guard C.J. Fredrick missed the second half of the Hoosiers game and didn’t play against the Fighting Illini because of a lower leg injury he suffered against Northwestern on Jan. 17.

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said on a video conference Monday that “there’s a chance” Fredrick plays against Michigan State. If Fredrick doesn’t play, freshman Keegan Murray, who started against Illinois, will once again take that spot in the lineup.

“I thought it was really good. I thought Keegan performed extremely well [against Illinois],” McCaffery said of Murray’s eight point, eight rebound game in his first career start. “He made some mistakes, as you would have expected, but he’s a guy that learns quickly. I think it was good for him to be in that role.”

Before Iowa competes against No. 7 Ohio State on Thursday, or gets its chance at revenge against Indiana in Bloomington on Sunday, the Hawkeyes are focused on Michigan State.

And, more specifically, on getting back in the win column.

“We’re extremely motivated after that loss,” Iowa guard Joe Wieskamp said. “We feel this is a great opportunity for us to get three wins this week… We know the type of talent they have and we’ve really got to prepare for this one because it’s going to be a dogfight [Tuesday].”

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