Iowa faces Michigan State again tonight


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Eleven days ago, then-No. 10 Michigan State beat Iowa, 71-53, in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was the expected outcome, the standard highly ranked team easily dispatching the conference bottom-dweller story line.

Nearly two weeks later, little has changed.

Iowa (7-11) picked up two wins by a combined seven points over Tennessee State and Penn State, the conference’s only remaining winless squad.

Meanwhile, Tom Izzo’s Spartans further proved they can win nearly every way imaginable, downing Minnesota in an ugly 60-53 slugfest and cruising past Illinois, 73-63.

Tonight, the Hawkeyes will try to win their third game in a row for the first time since Dec. 12, 2008, tipping off against No. 6 Michigan State at 5:30 p.m. in the Breslin Center.

“Although they saw, in some areas, we competed, ... I don’t think they were pleased with our overall performance, obviously,” Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter said about the Jan. 9 loss to the Spartans. “It gives us a chance to do something about it.”

Sophomore forward Aaron Fuller said, “They like to run-and-gun. If we can just contain them, I think we’ll do pretty good.”

In the first matchup, the Hawkeyes got physically overpowered inside. Michigan State’s rebounding advantage (plus 18), and its 12 offense rebounds led to easy shots in the paint.

Consequently, the Spartans shot 55 percent from the field against the usually stingy Hawkeye defense. Iowa, on the other hand, only managed to shoot 39 percent from the field and had only one scorer in double figures (sophomore Matt Gatens).

Recently, the emergence of another young player, sophomore forward Aaron Fuller, has given Lickliter two legitimate scoring options. Over the last two games, the Mesa, Ariz., native is averaging 22 points per game, shooting 67 percent from the floor.

In his Tuesday teleconference with the media, Lickliter also praised freshman Eric May for his recent play, saying, “I just thought a light went on.”

Playing an average of 36 minutes per game over the last six contests, perhaps the only player Lickliter has relied on more is Gatens.

“What we’re probably missing are a couple of seniors that have some poise and are really the high-level players who have been with us,” Lickliter said. “This is a very good group, but youthful. And this is not a good league to rebuild in, to be quite honest with you.”

Iowa’s youth will be a concern going into the Breslin Center, one of the loudest and most hostile venues in college basketball.

In the Hawkeyes’ last trip to East Lansing, they fell, 62-54, in front of 14,759 fans.

“I think they’ve got to kind of embrace it and expect it,” Lickliter said. “Believe me, the competition will demand every bit of our attention.”

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