January 27, 2014

MSU must move on; Iowa up next

EAST LANSING - With all things being considered, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo would have preferred a victory over Michigan, eventhough his team was short-handed without injured stars Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson.

But not at the expense of what his team gained in experience, expression of talent and the toughness department.

After getting a career-high 12 points from freshman guard Alvin Ellis III, a near double-double from sophomore forward Matt Costello, a double-double in points and assists from senior point guard Keith Appling, who played with a sore wrist, and efficient contributions from freshman forward Gavin Schilling and junior forward Alex Gauna, Izzo expressed pride in the way his then No. 3 Spartans responded to adversity and performed against then-No. 21/25 Michigan.

But that chapter and valuable lesson is over and now the No. 7/6 Spartans must show what they learned about themselves and what they now have against another high quality conference opponent on the road.

Up next, for the Spartans (18-2, 7-1 Big Ten), No. 15/12 Iowa (16-4, 5-2) at 7 p.m. (ESPN) on Tuesday night in Iowa City, Iowa.

"Iowa is one of the most dangerous teams in the conference,'' Appling said. "They're very experienced (and) they have a lot of guys that have played with each other for a number of years. They can score the basketball. Simple as that. They have a great transition game (and) a lot of different guards that (can) bring the ball up. And they have a few shooters.

"(So) like I said they are one of the dangerous teams in the conference (which means) we have to continue doing what we've been doing. Our principles are going to remain the same no matter who we are playing. We have to contest shots, rebound and get our break going like we did earlier in the year.''

Not unlike Minnesota, Iowa is another well-rounded team that does a lot of things very well.

The challenge for the Spartans, who lead the all-time series 68-53 but trail in games at Iowa 22-34 will not only be able to bounce back but bounce back in a hostile environment without Dawson and most likely Payne for a sixth-straight game.

''We have an opportunity to bounce back quickly to kind of get this taste out of our mouth. Iowa, they're a good team and it's gonna be another battle, another test for us,'' said sophomore guard and leading scorer Gary Harris. "We can't really get down because of the Michigan game because the Iowa game isn't gonna be any easier, especially playing on the road.''

While the Spartans captured their last meeting against Iowa, a 59-53 triumph back in March at the 2013 Big Ten Championships, the Hawkeyes made the Spartans earn their last trip to Iowa City, a 62-59 squeaker.

And while MSU has won nine of the last 10 meetings between the two teams, three of the last five wins have been decided by five points or less.

"I think they look at it as, that's gonna be huge to them,'' Harris said. "We stole one at their place, we were losing the whole game, didn't take the lead until the last minute or so. Branden got the steal and dunk and we didn't look back from there. They were beating us down in the Big Ten Tournament game and Keith was able to get hot and we were able to pull it out at the end. But it was two close games and with everybody coming back, I know they definitely remember it and they're gonna be ready to play us (on) Tuesday.''

And in addition to being short-handed, the Spartans will be facing an Iowa team that is undefeated at home this season and looking for its 21st-straight win in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Also, Iowa is one of only three teams in the country to beat an AP Top 3 team on the road and the only Big Ten team that has won 10 games by 20-plus points this season.

Pacing the Hawkeyes attack is senior guard and Michigan native Roy Devyn Marble, who scores 16.1 points a game.

Junior forward Aaron White, the team's leader in field goal percentage at .633, is next up at 13.7 points and 6.5 rebounds a game, while senior forward Melsahn Basabe, the team's leading rebounder at 6.7 boards a game, adds 8.2 points a contest.

While 18-year head coach Fran McCaffery's bunch has proven to be able to put up points early and often with fast starts, one of the things that has set Iowa apart from other teams MSU has faced is their rebounding prowess. The Hawkeyes enter Tuesday night's showdown with a plus-10 rebounding margin in all games this season.

That means as well as inside starters and reserves like Costello, Schilling and Gauna played against U-M, they will have to play that much better against an Iowa team that seems to get positive contributions no matter who they put on the floor.

"I just think it's a team that I told you guys the first day we met this year, that I thought they would be the most improved team in the league. And they are. Fran's a good coach,'' Izzo said. "They rebound well, they have size, they have some shooters - even though, if there's a weakness, they haven't shot the three quite as well. They have two point guards, one who started last year and is coming off the bench. Their best shooter, (junior guard Josh) Oglesby, was the only guy of the 10 guys that play that didn't play in all the games, because he was hurt in the first half of the season. He's now shooting 52% from three and that makes a difference for them.

Tuesday's game will also be another game where 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Denzel Valentine will need to make his presence felt in the lane in terms of rebounding and post defense.

Offensively, the Spartans will counter with Harris, who punched in a career-high 27 against the Wolverines, and Appling, who is coming off his first career double-double against Michigan.

Harris is averaging 18.8 points a game, while Appling adds 15.4 points and a team-leading 4.9 assists a game.

Like many other coaches and analysts, McCaffery is also impressed with Appling's play this season, especially in the face of adversity.

"(Appling has responded with) the leadership you would have expected him to provide. He's a senior point guard who's been through a lot, a very talented player. He's a gamer,'' McCaffery said. "That term is kind of thrown around loosely a lot of times, but he is truly a gamer and responds to any challenge. The challenge is to continue to engineer victory for his team regardless of who he's playing alongside. He's been impressive.''

Valentine and junior guard Travis Trice are MSU's next best scoring options, with Valentine producing 7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds a game and Trice contributing 6.8 points a contest but once again, MSU will be looking to replace the inside offensive presence vacated by the injuries to Dawson and Payne which have left 26.4 points and 16.4 rebounds on the bench.

"Appling and Harris have really taken their games to another level, and that's been impressive and not unexpected. But the other thing is what I think Tom has done is really expanded his bench,'' McCaffery said. "I think they have really utilized in particular Kaminski and Costello, Trice, and those are all really good players, and they've gotten a chance to play more. He's also gotten Ellis and Schilling playing time that maybe they wouldn't have gotten as much of, and they've performed well. So now they've had so many injuries, those guys are ready to play.''

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