Round two of Iowa and Michigan State on the hardwood takes place Thursday night as the Hawkeyes travel to East Lansing to take on the Spartans in the Breslin Center. MSU star Denzel Valentine did not play in the first meeting but he returns to the starting lineup tonight after coming off the bench in the demolition of Penn State over the weekend in Happy Valley.
Iowa knows they will have their hands full with the Spartans looking for revenge and being drastically different when Denzel Valentine is on the floor.
"I think they're very different," Iowa point guard Mike Gesell said about the Spartans with Valentine. "Denzel is the type of player that makes everyone else better. He's a big part of their offense. As a player, you want to go against the best every single night. It's going to be a good matchup for us. We'll have a lot of different guys on him."
"They're a totally different team (without him)," Michigan native and Iowa guard Anthony Clemmons shared. "Denzel contributes 30-35 points a game. His points, his assists, the way he passes for assists, he's valuable to the whole offense. They feed off his confidence. Playing alongside him and with him, I know how that works. He's a great leader. He's a great guy as a teammate."
"He's their guy," reserve Nicholas Baer of the Hawkeyes told a group of media members on Tuesday. "He's a terrific player. He's a player of the year candidate. (Going against guys like him) is why you play in the Big Ten."
Iowa thoroughly beatdown Michigan State in the first meeting of the year. The Hawkeyes took it to the Spartans at the end of December which resulted in Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo saying his team 'got punked'. It's safe to say that his team will want to use this game to respond to that type of tough coaching.
"You always expect that from Michigan State," Gesell noted. "They are a toughness team and that is what they pride themselves on. With (Tom) Izzo saying that, you know they will be ready to play. We have to match their intensity. They can crank up their defensive intensity at any time. We have to be ready for that, not quick-shoot the ball, and match their intensity throughout the game."
"It's mentally about keeping your poise," Clemmons stated about how MSU will come out determined after the failures of the first contest. "When you make a run on them, you can't get too excited like you won that game. Once you hit them, you have to keep hitting them. You have to keep going after them. At any point in time they're willing to amp up the defense and the intensity. When Izzo goes crazy on the sideline, they feed off of that. When it comes, you have to keep your poise and be able to counter what they do."
"Michigan State is always physical," Iowa star Jarrod Uthoff pointed out. "They always get up in your space. They chuck you off cuts. They'll be really physical. Our ability to fight through that will determine the game."
Asked by Tom Kakert of Hawkeye Report if he wanted the responsibility of negating Valentine, Uthoff bluntly answered, "I'm ready, whenever."
As Jarrod Uthoff mentioned, this game will be determined by Iowa's ability to match the physicality and intensity that Michigan State will exert. The Spartans will come out hungry as ever and determined to redeem themselves from their last performance against the Hawkeyes. Iowa will get an extra dose of that 'Michigan State Way' that Tom Izzo has always been able to muster in East Lansing.
Iowa also handled MSU when they were without Denzel Valentine. Completely shutting him down is virtually impossible but they do need to contain his impact on the game. Like many of the players said on Tuesday as well as head coach Fran McCaffery, his ability as a passer has as much impact, if not more, as his scoring ability. He involves others and sets them up for easy scores. I think the key is keeping him out of the paint where he can become a playmaker and force him to beat Iowa from the outside shooting contested shots.
Valentine can also be dynamite in transition and turnovers are especially detrimental to a team's effort on the road. Breslin Center enhances that statistic even more. So limiting turnovers and forcing Valentine to shoot contested perimeter shots and keeping him out of the lane will be key for the Iowa attack.
I do like Iowa's chances if Woodbury can stay out of foul trouble but I think there's some concern with that with the game being in East Lansing and the physical style of basketball that the Spartans will employ. I think Gesell and Clemmons can keep Valentine out of the lane but can Peter Jok when he's matched up on the MSU star? That'll be a big item to watch for in tonight's game.
I'm not sure Woodbury will be out on the floor as much as Iowa will need him to be due to foul trouble. I think they contain Valentine enough to stay in the game but not enough to come out a winner.