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Saying it and doing it are two different things. Which brings us to Iowa's basketball team.

"I know they believe they can beat every team in this conference," ESPN's Jay Bilas said. "But until they do it, there's always going to be that little bit of doubt."

Bilas was courtside at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Thursday as Iowa tried to climb the mountain that is Michigan State. The Hawkeyes were poised to snap an eight-game losing streak to the Big Ten's marquee program, taking an 11-point halftime lead.

"They do everything they're supposed to do in the first half," Bilas said. "They got beat on the glass in the first few minutes, then they cleaned that up. They didn't give up a second-chance point the rest of the half, and scored almost 40 points."

Iowa had a 39-28 halftime lead, Carver-Hawkeye was electric and the home team looked poised to finish the job.

"None of these players have ever beaten Michigan State," Bilas said. "And they've got an opportunity to take the next step as a team and in their program, of beating a traditional power and staying with the leaders in the conference."

But that one big step turned into a step back. Michigan State outscored Iowa in the second half, 47-22.

"They didn't match that intensity (of the first half), got punched and didn't respond," Bilas said.

REWIND: Iowa program's bane remains in loss to Spartans

Instead of heading to Minnesota Tuesday with an undefeated Big Ten record and a Top 25 ranking, Iowa will arrive in the Twin Cities stinging from a lost opportunity.

"They'll get more opportunities," Bilas said. "But this was one you've got to learn from and really take to heart."

As a player at Duke, Bilas said North Carolina was always the measuring stick.

"We had to beat them to prove to ourselves that we were good enough," Bilas said.

Michigan State is a measuring stick for Iowa. Going into the game three of the four previous meetings had been decided by three points or less, or in overtime. Thursday's game was a first-half tease with an unhappy ending. The Hawkeyes just weren't up to the task.

"That's a maturation thing," Bilas said. "I think Iowa is a good team. I really like their team. But to be among the elite teams, these games (like Michigan State) are ones that you've got to put yourself in a position to win. And that's the next step for them. I think they can do it. But at some point you've got to stop talking about it and start doing it."

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Bilas arrived in town on Wednesday, and watched Iowa coach Fran McCaffery prepare his team for the Spartans.

"I've never seen a better prepared basketball team by a coaching staff," Bilas said. "Fran, Kirk (Speraw) ... They were dialed into what Michigan State was going to do. I've seen a bunch of teams prepare for Michigan State, and Iowa was the best."

But it's up to the players to do it. The search for consistency and finding an answer for subpar second halves remains.

"These are good players," Bilas said. "They've shown toughness throughout the course of the season, but they didn't in the second half (against Michigan State). That wasn't their best foot forward."

But…

"You always put the but in there," Bilas said. "We can sit and talk about what they're capable of. But you've got to do it. "

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.

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