No. 16 Iowa 88, Michigan State 58: Here's what we learned

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

EAST LANSING, Mich. — How dominant was the Iowa basketball team Saturday?

The No. 16 Hawkeyes brought along their best player, Luka Garza, but it was just for show. They didn't really need him to throttle an overmatched Michigan State squad 88-58 at the Breslin Center, where the piped-in crowd noise seemed to mock the home team's futility.

Iowa raced to a 21-point lead, and then appeared to just be toying with Michigan State (10-8, 4-8 Big Ten Conference). The Hawkeyes earned a series sweep over the Spartans, who usually sit near the top of the league standings, for the first time in five seasons.

This one was never in doubt. Iowa (15-6, 9-5) got 21 points from Joe Wieskamp, who connected on five 3-pointers for a second consecutive game.  Jack Nunge came off the bench and poured in 18 points, with a team-high 11 rebounds. Connor McCaffery added 16 points.

More:Iowa men still comfortably in NCAA's top 16 seeds in early bracket look

Garza, an all-American, had eight points and eight rebounds and was happy to cheer on his teammates after 23 minutes of play. It was the first time he was held below 10 points in a game since Thanksgiving 2019. And it didn't matter.

It was a second victory in a row, and Iowa's first this season when shooting guard CJ Fredrick misses an entire game. Like Garza, Fredrick wasn't needed in this one. The gap in talent and experience between the two squads was startling.

More:CJ Fredrick's return to health gives Iowa a lift

Michigan State Spartans guard Joshua Langford (1) passes against Iowa Hawkeyes guard Joe Wieskamp (10) during first half action at the Breslin Center on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021.

Here's what we learned:

NUNGE PUTS IN WORK: This was a Jack Nunge game. The reserve forward has been a key player all season, but every once in awhile looks like one of the Big Ten's brightest stars. On Saturday, he came in early when Keegan Murray got a second foul, and just kept getting better. Nunge added six assists, to lead Iowa in that category, plus a blocked shot. He was active on both ends of the court and even showed a new wrinkle: A shot-fake, dribble-drive into the lane and a made layup while drawing a foul. Nunge is Iowa's tallest player, at 6-foot-11 (a shade more than Garza), with a 7-3 wing span. And it's easy to forget that he is just a sophomore in terms of his competitive career, a senior academically. When he's at his best, Nunge is an asset that no other Big Ten team can turn to off the bench. 

THREES FALLING EARLY: Iowa found out shortly before tipoff that starting shooting guard CJ Fredrick would miss a fourth game with his lower-leg injury. Keegan Murray started in his place, moving Connor McCaffery into the backcourt. Those are two players that Michigan State decided to give space to at the 3-point arc. Both of them took advantage, and pretty soon the Hawkeyes were unleashing a barrage from that distance. Murray shrugged and buried both of his open looks. McCaffery missed his first, then made a pair, glancing at the Spartan bench and tapping his chest each time, as if to say: Keep doubting me. Jordan Bohannon, Wieskamp and Nunge also canned treys, as Iowa made eight of its first 11 and built a lead that eventually grew to 44-23. In the Hawkeyes’ 82-74 win in Iowa City on Feb. 2, it was interior scoring that proved decisive, 42 points coming in the paint, plus 35 free-throw attempts. In the rematch, Iowa showed a different dimension, and it was even more effective.

SPARTANS LACK PLAN ON OFFENSE: This is the least intimidating Michigan State team in recent memory. There’s little star power or muscle. That meant Iowa was the superior team, pound-for-pound, top-to-bottom. And the Hawkeyes seemed to relish in that rare occasion, not only dicing up the Spartans’ defense, but moving them around on the other end of the court as well. Michigan State frequently got into an offensive set and appeared to have no idea what to do next. Players were launching ill-advised 3-point attempts or dribbling into the lane with no apparent purpose. The Spartans were 11-for-35 from the field in the first half, including a paltry 2 of 11 from the 3-point arc. In Iowa City, they made their first six 3s before cooling off. That stretch of play was an outlier. It’s been clear all season that this is not a good shooting team, and Iowa kept the Spartans from finding any rhythm.

Iowa next plays at Wisconsin at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.