GAME NOTES: The Hawkeyes will play the rest of the season without leading-scorer Pierre Pierce, who was dismissed from the team Wednesday due to an investigation stemming from an off-campus incident last weekend. Pierce, a 6'4" Junior Guard from Westmont, IL, had averaged 17.8 ppg for Iowa this season.
Michigan State will try to rebound from a disappointing 81-68 home loss Tuesday night against top-ranked and unbeaten Illinois. The Spartans, who have won 11 of their last 13 games, defeated Iowa, 89-72, in their last matchup (Jan. 4, 2004) in East Lansing.
Davis doesn't use his weight as effectively in the low post as he should, which should help the lighter Hansen hold his own down low. Hanson is a big time shot blocker (3.5 bpg) and could frustrate Davis and his finesse-styled game.
This is a matchup that could cause serious problems for the Spartans. Brunner is a banger (14.0 ppg and 8.2 rpg) who could get either Davis or Anderson into early foul trouble. Wisconsin's Mike Wilkinson had a big day versus the Spartans' interior defense back on Jan 16; and now that Pierre Pierce is gone, the Hawkeyes will likely lean heavily on Brunner to pick up the scoring slack.
Horner is a do-it-all player for Iowa (13.6 ppg, 5.7 apg) who is deadly from beyond-the-arc (.468). It will be interesting to see who the Spartans put on Horner early in the game. A good bet will be that Kelvin Torbert would get the early call off the bench from Tom Izzo if Hill and/or Ager can't get it done.
HAWKEYES TO WATCH:
With the dismissal of Pierce, Thomas and Henderson will both have increased roles off the Iowa bench. Thomas is shooting .582 (39-67) from the floor and averaging 4.6 rebounds in 16 minutes of action this season. Henderson has grabbed 12 steals in a reserve role and is an aggressive defender (28 personal fouls) who will likely see plenty of action if Michigan State's fast break becomes a factor.
KEYS TO VICTORY:
Iowa: Slow down the game and pound the ball inside to Brunner to attempt to get Davis and/or Anderson in early foul trouble. If that happens, expect Matt Trannon to get the early call from the bench to stop Brunner from running roughshod in the paint.
On the outside, expect Horner to control the tempo by not only finding the basket himself, but by using dribble-penetration to dish for open looks for Guards Adam Haluska (12.4 ppg), Carlton Reed and Mike Henderson. All three players shoot over 40% from downtown, and if any of them get hot, it will make things more difficult for Michigan State.
Michigan State: Attack the glass and run the break to force the Hawkeyes to go to their bench and get the shot-blocking Hansen off the floor. Then go to Paul Davis down low to attempt to get Brunner into foul trouble. If Davis and the Spartan fast-break can get some points early, it will silence the formidable Iowa crowd and place extra pressure on Horner, Haluska, and Brunner to pick up the scoring slack left by the now-dismissed Pierce.
Prediction: This will be a nip-and-tuck game with the undermanned Iowa team leaning heavily on Brunner and Horner to keep pace with the deeper and more talented Spartans. The Carver-Hawkeye crowd should provide a boost for Steve Alford's crew if the game is tight down the stretch. The big dual intangibles will be how the absence of Pierce will affect the Hawkeyes and if the tough loss Tuesday night versus Illinois will still be affecting the Spartans by gametime.
Final: Iowa 69, Michigan State 66