Down goes Sparty!
No. 1 and previously undefeated Michigan State went into Iowa City and got themselves court-stormed, losing to the Hawkeyes 83-70 in a game that Fran McCaffery’s club controlled from the beginning.
Before we get into the meat of this post, the disclaimer: the Spartans were without Denzel Valentine, the current favorite for National Player of the Year, as he continues to recover from an arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and if this loss tells us anything, it’s that Valentine arguably the most valuable player in the country. With him, Michigan State is undefeated and ranked No. 1. Without him, they struggle to knock off Oakland and get worked over pretty good by an Iowa team that doesn’t even get votes for the top 25.
The one real issue for Michigan State this year is their point guard play. I love Tum Tum Nairn, but he’s a guy that thrives in transition, not a pure point guard whose strength is facilitating half court offense or breaking down a set defense. When Valentine is healthy, he’s the guy the offense runs through, the one getting ball-screens and making plays for his teammates off the bounce while also doubling as the guy they run off of down-screens and call quick-hitters for.
Without him on the floor, their offense can get pretty ugly.
The good news? He’ll be back.
Which is great news for Iowa.
Because come Selection Sunday, there isn’t going to be an asterisk next to this win. The Selection Committee accounts for injuries when a team loses a game. They don’t account for the injuries of an opponent in a game that team wins. Michigan State is going to be a top five or ten team all season long. They might be the Big Ten champions. This is a marquee win for their résumé, the kind of thing that can be the difference between the NIT and avoiding the First Four.
The better news is that Iowa won this game despite the fact that Jarrod Uthoff, their star forward, did not play well. He finished with just 10 points, playing only six minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Mike Gesell stepped up (25 points), as did Peter Jok (18 points), as the Hawkeyes landed the kind of confidence-boosting win that can help them forget the fact that they blew a 20 point lead at Iowa State.
Here’s the other part of it: this also means that Iowa can avoid a potentially devastating start to the Big Ten season. Four of their next seven games come against the top three teams in the Big Ten, with three of those games coming on the road. They likely won’t have the luxury of playing the Spartans without Valentine next time around, either.
In other words, if they had lost this game, a 3-5 start in the Big Ten was very possible. Given Iowa’s penchant for collapsing, that kind of start could have ended up being a season-killer.
So good for Iowa.
They took advantage of an opportunity provided them.
Now let’s see what they can do in West Lafayette on Saturday.