Iowa facing another team from Big Ten's crowded middle

Ryan Murken
Iowa's Ally Disterhoft fights off Rutgers' Briyona Canty during their game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Monday, Jan. 4, 2016.

Any possible panic surrounding the Iowa women’s basketball team following consecutive conference losses last week was doused with Wednesday’s road win at Wisconsin.

In reality panic, or even moderate distress, was never really prevalent for Lisa Bluder or the Hawkeyes.

Five games into what has already been an unpredictable conference season across the Big Ten, Bluder sees her team in a predictable position.

Iowa (13-4, 3-2 Big Ten) enters Saturday’s road tilt at No. 18 Michigan State (12-4, 3-2) in a three-way tie for fourth place in the topsy-turvy Big Ten standings.

“We played five games and we’ve won two road Big Ten games, we’ve lost one road Big Ten game and we’ve lost to a top-10 team on our home court so it’s not as bad as it looks,” Bluder said. “Sometimes (when you lose) people are like ‘oh my gosh’ but I’m telling you with what our schedule has been like I’m optimistic with a young team that we are growing and learning and getting better every day.”

Whitney Jennings back on track for Hawkeyes

Less than a third of the way through the season it’s already hard to make sense of the Big Ten race.

Nine teams enter play this weekend either 3-2 or 2-3 in conference play.

Iowa’s meeting with Michigan State on Saturday will be its fifth game against one of those teams, and fourth road game against those opponents.

The Hawkeyes are 3-1 against those teams, with its other loss coming to eighth-ranked Maryland.

“After Saturday we will have four of our nine away Big Ten games over and we still have six weeks of the season left,” Bluder said. “I think it’s going to bode well for us at the end of year.”

What would really help Iowa in the Big Ten standings is a win in the first of two meetings with the Spartans.

Michigan State had a three-game winning streak snapped with an 81-65 loss at Indiana on Wednesday.

The loss at Indiana was the first of the season to an unranked opponent for the Spartans, who dropped nonconference games to sixth-ranked Baylor and No. 23 Louisville and opened conference play with a five-point loss at No. 5 Ohio State.

“Everybody is beating up on everybody else and that is kind of the way that this conference plays out,” Bluder said. “Every year it’s the same way. There are upsets every night and you have to come ready to play every single night.”

Iowa won the lone meeting between the two teams last season, 52-50, in East Lansing.

The loss to Iowa was part of a 1-7 Big Ten start for Michigan State as the Spartans finished a disappointing 7-11 in conference play.

This year Michigan State has relied heavily on its strong defense and the one-two scoring punch of juniors Aerial Powers (18.5 ppg) and Tori Jankoska (16.8 ppg).

Michigan State ranks third in the Big Ten in points per game allowed at 60.1 and has held opponents to 36 percent shooting on the season.

“I think they are kind of hard to judge but I know that we are going to see great defense every single time we play against a Michigan State team,” Bluder said. “You are going to see great defense, you are going to see a physical team that works hard.”

Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.

Iowa (13-4, 3-2) at No. 18 Michigan State (12-4, 3-2)

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.   

Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Mich.  

Stat leaders: Iowa — Ally Disterhoft 16.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg; Chase Coley 10.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg. Michigan State — Aerial Powers 18.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg; Tori Jankoska 16.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg.

What to watch: Be prepared for a defensive affair as last year’s meeting between the two teams in East Lansing produced a total of 102 points.

That isn’t out of the ordinary for a Michigan State team that ranks towards the top of the Big Ten in most defensive categories.

The Spartans are limiting opponents to 24 percent shooting from 3-point range, which leads the Big Ten, and are second in the conference in rebounding margin, outrebounding foes by more than 14 per game.