IOWA CITY, Ia. – As a kid growing up in Strongsville, Ohio, Aaron White developed a fondness for Big Ten basketball. He watched Michigan State and the great success it had under coach Tom Izzo.
And now he wants to beat them.
"I love playing against Izzo," said White, Iowa's senior forward and leading scorer and rebounder. "I know what they're all about. It's a team I grew up watching. And they've played the same way since I was young. They come after you. Everyone has got to raise their intensity level."
White looking for first victory against Spartans on Thursday.
White is 0-6 against the Spartans heading into Thursday's 6 p.m. meeting at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. And this represents his last chance, unless the teams meet in the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa doesn't play in East Lansing this season.
Iowa was one play away from beating the Spartans on each of their last two visits, but didn't get it done.
"We just have to make those plays down the stretch, and keep playing through our mistakes," White said.
The Spartans won two seasons ago 62-59, then triumphed 71-69 in overtime last season.
"They've been very intense, hard-fought games," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "We had leads, and we didn't close them out. I think what you do is respect your opponent and try to figure out, 'OK, what can we do differently on offense, what can we do on defense?' You just keep working at it. You don't belabor it."
Michigan State visits Iowa Thursday
The last time Iowa beat Michigan State was on Feb. 2, 2011, by a 72-52 score. That was McCaffery's first season as head coach. The Spartans have run off eight straight since then.
Win Thursday, and Iowa could find itself back in the Top 25. It would also give the Hawkeyes a 3-0 start to Big Ten play since the 2002-03 season. And beating Michigan State never looks bad come Selection Sunday.
At 11-4 overall, Iowa seems to have found itself after lackluster second-half efforts in losses to Iowa State and Northern Iowa. The same can be said for the Spartans, at 10-5 overall and 1-1 in Big Ten play. Michigan State entered Monday's game with Indiana with home losses in two of its previous games — in overtime to Texas Southern and in double overtime to Maryland in the Big Ten opener.
But the Spartans rebounded with, in the opinion of Izzo, the best defensive effort of the season in a 70-50 victory over the Hoosiers. Michigan State opponents are averaging just 36.8 percent shooting from the floor, the lowest for a Spartan team since 1957-58. Michigan State is holding foes to 27.3 percent shooting from 3, lower than any season in school history.
"What I see is a consistent defensive team with a focus and a determination that has been their staple," McCaffery said. "It's what's made them special over the years."
Iowa shot 38.6 percent from the field in Monday's 70-59 victory over Nebraska, and has shot under 40 percent in four of its last five games.
"Their defense fuels their offense," White said. "They get a lot of stuff in transition, a lot of open 3s. We've got to move the ball well, get good shots for us and then contain them in transition so they don't run it up our backs and get open 3s."
Taking care of home court is Iowa's No. 1 priority.