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Men's hoops eyes second shot at Sparty

BY RYAN PROBASCO | MARCH 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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The last three meetings between Iowa and Michigan State have been decided by a combined 8 points. But none of those games have ended favorably for Iowa.

“They are just good. I don’t think there’s anything specific that you’re going to say that they have done or we haven’t done,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “You’ve just got to give them credit. They beat us in those games. They are a good team.”

The Hawkeyes already got a taste of the Spartans this season — they lost to Tom Izzo’s squad in overtime on Jan. 28. But they’ll be seeing a much different squad this time, because, unlike in the previous matchup, standout forwards Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne will suit up for Michigan State.

“I think when you get those guys back initially, there’s a little bit of an adjustment period, and I think you’ve seen that with them,” McCaffery said. “But ultimately they are better. You’re talking about, you know, a couple of the premier players in our league. So they are going to affect the game in a very positive way.”

Last time around, Iowa did a nice job containing Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine, two of the better players in the Big Ten. And Iowa’s success against opponents’ top players has become a bit of a trend lately.

“You look at our losses in the last week or two, and we’ve held the main guys in check,” junior forward Aaron White said. “The ‘X-factor’ guys are the ones having big games against us. And that’s what happens in this league. We have a good understanding that we can keep their guys in check, but it’s going to take a team effort out of us.”

A matchup everyone will be keeping an eye on is the one between Michigan State’s Harris and Iowa guard Devyn Marble. Both players average more than 17 points per game and are widely regarded as the top player for their respective teams.   

“There’s no question they are going to go at it, and that’s what you expect from two great players,” McCaffery said. “It happened the last time we played. I think they have mutual respect for one another. But there’s going to be so many more other things to be thinking about, and that’s one interesting matchup I guess from a fan’s perspective.

“But they have so many different weapons, and they are so physically big and strong. You’ve got to be able to withstand the defensive intensity and the rebounding situation is going to be critical.”

A lot of Iowa players are unfamiliar with the type of atmosphere awaiting them in the Breslin Center because the games between these two squads last year were held in Iowa City and at the Big Ten Tournament.

Mike Gesell, who will draw the assignment of defending Keith Appling (4.8 assists per game, second most in the Big Ten), is one of them. But despite the intimidating hot bed that’s guaranteed to meet Gesell in East Lansing, he seems to be more than excited for the task.

“It will be fun to get them at full strength at their place,” Gesell said. “These are the kinds of challenges you love. That’s why you play the game of basketball.”


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