#16 Michigan State (18-4, 6-4 Big Ten) travels to Iowa City to take on #18 Iowa (19-6, 8-3 Big Ten), for a chance to knock the Hawkeyes from atop the conference standings and improve their own conference outlook.
Coming off a tough loss in Minnesota, the Spartans still control their own destiny, with key head-to-head games against teams in the thick of the Big Ten race.
The Spartans routed the Hawkeyes earlier this season 85-55 in East Lansing, but now it's Iowa's turn to play host. The Hawkeyes have a big chip on their shoulders after that loss.
"I look for us to have a big chip on our shoulder after the Minnesota game, so that evens us out," said Spartans coach Tom Izzo.
Michigan State leads the all-time series 56-48 but the Hawkeyes lead the series in Iowa City, 30-19. Ironically, State has won 13 of the last 16 games and four of the last six in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Senior Greg Brunner leads the Hawkeyes, averaging a double-double on the season (14.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game). Junior Adam Haluska leads the team in scoring with 14.9 points per game and senior Jeff Horner adds in 13 points a game.
In the Spartan blowout earlier this season, Brunner posted 17 points and 11 rebounds while Haluska led Iowa with 19 points.
"Brunner has been great," said Tom Izzo. "He is one of the better players in this league as far as what he's been able to get done."
Facing a big guy like Brunner (6-foot-7, 240 lbs), the Spartans will have to guard the tough forward cleanly without fouling. They'll rotate a trio of players including Matt Trannon, Marquise Gray, and Paul Davis against Brunner inside and hope that fouls don't become a problem because Iowa ranks fourth in the Big Ten in free throw shooting percentage (.709).
A key to winning the game will be both teams' rebounding. Iowa leads the Big Ten in rebounding margin with +4.5 and MSU is second with +3.9 rebounds. The Spartans are 13-1 when out-rebounding their opponents while 5-5 when losing the battle on the boards.
Putting aside stats, the biggest factor on Tuesday night will be the crowd. The game will be televised to a national audience on ESPN and the Iowa fans will be as loud as ever.
It will be most important for the Spartans to start out quick and not allow the crowd to get into the game. The Hawkeyes are 14-0 at home this season and recently demolished #22 Michigan by 30 points.
The Big Ten title is far from over, especially for Michigan State. They are virtually only one game behind the Hawkeyes for first place, although Iowa has played one more conference game.
Tuesday's game is virtaully a must win for the Spartans and will go a long way towards determining a conference champion. With a win, Iowa would only greatly improve their chances of a Big Ten title while simultaneously eliminating Michigan State's hopes for a conference title, but coach Tom Izzo - in a bit of psychological warefare - is saying all the pressure is on the Hawkeyes.
"We're a big barrier for them right now," said Izzo. "Don't kid yourself, we're not out of the conference race, we're one game out. And nobody has had as difficult a schedule as we've had.
By defeating Iowa, the Spartans would not only gain a huge road victory in the Big Ten but be within reach of first place in the Big Ten. The Spartans host Ohio State, the other team atop the conference, a week from Wednesday. MSU would also carry a tiebreaker with Iowa and possibly Ohio State if the standing were to go to that.
"They have got to be hungry and their chance for a Big Ten championship should motivate them even more," said Izzo. "They still have vulnerability because they have a lot to play for."
Carver-Hawkeye Arena will be electric on Tuesday night as the battle for the Big Ten title heats up. Both teams are playing to make a statement.
Iowa wants to take advantage of a rare chance to win the conference title. Michigan State wants to silence the critics who point to that lack of Big Ten banners at the Breslin Center.
This game has all the makings of a dogfight, but one team could set a great tempo early. It is the team that is able to establish themselves and their offense early that will be able to control the play throughout the rest of the game.