Bad loss at Michigan State taught Hawkeyes four painful lessons they'll bring to rematch
IOWA CITY, Ia. — There were so many lessons for the Iowa basketball team from its first meeting this season with Michigan State.
Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, they’re pretty simple to understand, if not harder to execute.
“They do a great job of making big runs, and it seems like every game they play, they keep a team on a scoring drought,” Iowa senior Nicholas Baer said Wednesday as the No. 21 Hawkeyes (16-3, 5-3 Big Ten Conference) prepare to battle the No. 5 Spartans (17-2, 8-0) a second time.
This one is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It will be televised on FS1.
Michigan State put Iowa away Dec. 3 in the opening 10 minutes of the second half in East Lansing. Iowa mustered only three points in that stretch. The Spartans built a 33-point lead before settling for a 90-68 win.
“Once they get rolling,” Iowa forward Tyler Cook said of the Spartans, “they’re hard to stop.”
That’s lesson one: Don’t let Michigan State get rolling. It won’t end well.
That means not settling for poor shots. That means sprinting back on defense against a Spartan team that thrives in transition.
“You can't jog. You can't back-pedal. You can't run to your man. You've got to pick somebody up. You've got to stop the ball. You've got to fight the post,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery cautioned.
In the first game, the Spartans pushed the ball relentlessly and found little resistance. That effort led to an incredible 21 layups. Center Nick Ward made all 10 of his shots.
That’s lesson two: Keep Ward and his low-post partners Kenny Goins and Xavier Tillman at bay. Or at least make them work harder so that they might miss an occasional shot.
“We’ve got to make sure our transition defense is solid, make sure we get back and pick up and try to guard guys before the catch,” Cook said. “I think it’s an adjustment that we’ll make.”
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Iowa, which is on a five-game winning streak and is 10-1 at home, compounded its problems at Michigan State by getting into foul trouble. Center Luka Garza played only 22 minutes.
That forced the Hawkeyes into a smaller lineup in a 2-3 zone, leaving freshman Joe Wieskamp, a 6-foot-6 wing player, matched up down low too often. For Wieskamp, it was a painful first road game in an Iowa uniform. He later exited with an injured ankle, to go with a little bruised pride.
“I was just uncomfortable a little bit, the speed of the game,” Wieskamp said. “They’d hit the high post and get it down low. I’ve got to be much more physical, use my strength, my low base and try to get into them.”
The good news is Wieskamp has improved notably as his debut season has progressed. He is averaging 13.7 points in his past six Big Ten games, each a valuable learning experience.
“I feel a lot stronger,” Wieskamp said.
But lesson No. 3 is: Play to Wieskamp’s strengths, which are on the perimeter as a defender, and all over the court as an offensive player. The Hawkeyes can’t let the rookie get matched up underneath with players who weigh 25-45 pounds more than he does, getting too worn down to provide as much scoring as is needed.
The Hawkeyes are hoping to draw some enthusiasm from a capacity crowd, with students being given free admission. They’re also drawing off of that humbling setback Dec. 3. They believe they’re a much-improved team. Baer noted that in the first meeting, the Hawkeyes were coming off a home loss to Wisconsin that had drained a little confidence.
That confidence has been restored. Now, it’s up to the Hawkeyes to prove they’re equipped to go toe-to-toe with a team that has won its past 20 Big Ten regular-season games.
Cook provided lesson No. 4: “We’ve got to make sure that we keep our emotions in check, make sure that we’re sticking to the gameplan.
"But at the same time play with an edge, a chip on our shoulder from what happened up there.”