Another Hurdle for Hawks

Mighty Michigan State comes to town Tuesday having owned Iowa in recent years. The Hawkeyes hope knocking off MSU becomes another hurdle cleared in their rise up the conference rankings.

Listen to Fran McCaffery's B1G Teleconference from Monday morning:

Listen to Tom Izzo's B1G Teleconference from Monday morning:

Tom Izzo pegged Iowa as a darkhorse Big Ten title contender before the season started. The Hawkeyes have positioned themselves to catch his perennial power Michigan State program in the standings Tuesday when they meet in a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

No. 15 Iowa received some off-season hype as a team on the rise. Few people considered Hawkeyes capable of conquering the nation's top conference having last made the NCAA Tournament in 2006.

After Saturday's 76-50 demolition of Northwestern in Evanston, Iowa sits at 16-4 overall and 5-2 in the conference. Michigan paces the Big Ten at 7-0 and Izzo's Spartans are 7-1.

"I said at the beginning of the year that I thought they'd be my surprise pick and it's not a big surprise," Izzo said of the Hawkeyes during his Monday morning turn on the Big Ten teleconference. "When you have three guys (Zach McCabe,Anthony Clemmons and Josh Oglesby) that have started that are now coming off of the bench, it's going to make for a pretty good team. Fran (McCaffery) does a great job coaching them and I think they're definitely one of the top teams in the league."

Michigan State under Izzo serves as the standard for success in the league. The Spartans own six conference titles, six trips to the Final Four and a national championship in his 18 years as head coach.

"One thing that everybody has to realize in this league if you're going to win a championship you're going to have to go through Michigan State," McCaffery said during Monday's Big Ten teleconference. "That's just the standard that Tom has set. We all hope that we can get to the point where we can consistently be that good.

"So, there's a respect factor there and a realization that to beat them is something special. (Tuesday) night, we're going to have an unbelievable crowd in here and we've got a really good team and when it's all said and done we're going to have to beat a really good team. It should be a great game."

The No. 7 Spartans (18-2) Tuesday will be without leading rebounder Branden Dawson, who broke his hand last week punching a table in frustration while watching game film. Izzo also expects to be minus senior all-American candidate Adreian Payne, who has missed the last five games with a foot injury.

"I don't know if it's a couple of weeks (from Payne's return) but he's day to day," Izzo said. "He ran (Sunday) a little bit more with more weight on it. He's very doubtful for (Tuesday) and then how he does Wednesday and Thursday will determine the rest of the week."

Starting point guard Keith Appling injured his wrist in Saturday's 80-75 home loss to Michigan. The senior told reporters in East Lansing on Monday that he'll play at Iowa.

"I can't pretend like (the wrist injury) is not there, that's impossible," Appling said. "We already have two of our players down…if I chose to sit down, who knows what would happen."

The Spartans have defeated Iowa in 11 of their last 12 meetings, including a 59-56 triumph at March's Big Ten Tournament that may have cost the Hawkeyes a spot in the NCAAs. McCaffery has dropped six in a row to MSU after winning his first game, 72-52, on Feb. 2 of 2011 in Iowa City.

"They've been able to absorb injury in a way thats been every impressive," McCaffery said. "It's a standard that they have set for themselves that is kind of unwavering. For us, anything short of a complete understanding of that is going to be a difficult position against this team.

"Fortunately, we've been through it. We've come close. We've only beat them one time since I've been here, but we've been close. We've learned from those games and we'll see."

Michigan State's sustained success makes it a premium opponent, no matter who its playing, every game. The Spartans are anticipating Iowa's best shot.

"I have great respect for them and I have great respect for Franie and the job he's done," Izzo said. "They've done it the right way. They built it up. They've stayed the course. They've suffered some tough losses over a couple of years but now he has a veteran team that plays the way he wants, plays with his intensity and they play hard and they play quick. Hopefully, we're going to be up for the task."

The Hawkeyes (85.2 points per game) and Michigan State (79.7) rank first and second, respectively, in conference scoring. They're also the top two teams in field goal percentage defense with Iowa allowing opponents to shoot 37.6 percent and the Spartans yielding 38.2.

Michigan State's super sophomore Gary Harris leads the conference in scoring (18.8 PPG). He's second in the league with 2.2 steals per contest.

"He definitely plays both ends," McCaffery said. "That's impressive because a lot of scorers just don't do that. They conserve energy because they know they have to go get buckets at the other end.

"To me, he stands out as a guy who is a winning player who puts winning above everything else and is still talented enough to be their leading scorer in a big game."

Iowa hopes to create an imposing atmosphere Tuesday night. The school is tabbing it as its

Black and Gold Spirit Game for the nationally televised contest on ESPN at 6 p.m. central time.

"I'm thrilled that our fans have identified with our team that they want to come out and support us and provide that kind of home court advantage that we often see when we go on the road in this league," McCaffery said.

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