Last season, the Spartans went into Iowa City with a 14-1 record and left 14-2 after a dreadful 43-36 loss to Iowa. Once again, MSU comes into its matchup with the Hawkeyes on Thursday as heavy favorites.
It is pretty much the same scenario as last season, and the Spartans know that. They understand the Hawkeyes are a quality team that have only lost one home game this season and are more than capable of pulling off the upset.
"They set a lot of ball screens. They got a lot of different players that can dribble the ball. They got four shooters," Travis Walton told GSN recently. "We got to go down there with a focus. They beat us last year so there's going to be a big emphasis on this game."
The Hawkeyes play small ball, so there are usually four skilled players on the floor at the same time. Many teams the Spartans have played this season play small, versatile lineups and they have had mixed success.
Having a rotation with multiple shooters that share the scoring responsibilities equally can be a recipe for an upset if the long ball is falling.
"They've got a variety of weapons," Spartan coach Tom Izzo said. "They got a lot of depth with their guards, but not as much depth with their bigs, but they don't play as many bigs. Another team that goes small often."
The stable of Iowa guards are lead by freshman Anthony Tucker, who is averaging 10.4 points and three rebounds per game, as well as sophomore Jeff Peterson who is posting 10.1 points per game and 4.2 assists. The leading scorer is another freshman, Matt Gatens who is putting up 10.8 points and 4.4 boards a night.
Gatens' play has caught the eye of the Spartans' coach.
"The Gatens kid is a tough kid," Izzo said. "He can shoot the three and he can get to the hole."
In last season's encounter, forward Cyrus Tate did damage down low for the Hawkeyes. He finished the contest with 9 points and 7 rebounds. 9 points may not sound like much, but when your team scores 43 points and gets a win, 9 points is a hefty total. Tate has been nursing an ankle injury since the team's loss against Minnesota, and he is considered doubtful.
In his absence, Todd Lickliter's squad has gotten a boost from center David Palmer. The junior took over the role of being the primary big man against Michigan on January 11. Palmer, who didn't see the floor in the three games prior to the U of M game, has averaged just over 12 points per game and 6 rebounds.
"The guy played eight or nine minutes and all of a sudden he's shooting threes, he's making shots all over," Izzo said. "I've been impressed with Palmer."
Michigan State may get a slight break on the offensive end because the Hawkeyes are primarily a man-to-man defensive team. The bad thing is that Iowa has the third best scoring defense in the conference. They give up only 58 points a contest.
"They play great defense, so we just have to come out, run our sets right and just be sharp on the offensive end," sophomore guard Kalin Lucas said.