On the road again: MSU looks to sustain home mojo at Iowa

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MATTHEW MITCHELL

Jenna Allen/MSU Athletic Communications

The state of Iowa is possibly not the most exciting state in the continental United States to drive through, but neither is much of the midwest, yes Nebraska that includes you. The No. 23 Spartans will hop on a bus Wednesday and head to Iowa City to take on the No. 16 Hawkeyes Thursday evening. The game is part of a stretch that has them playing three of four games on the road. MSU looks to find some success on the road against a Hawkeye team that is 17-5 this year and 8-3 in the Big Ten.

Of course, both teams are equal in many ways. Before I delve into what each team does best, acknowledge this: Iowa and MSU are two of the top scoring offenses in the conference. Both teams also rank first and second in assists in the Big Ten as well, making for what should be a shootout of a game that has not just the top scorer in the league, but also the entire NCAA in Iowa’s Megan Gustafson.

Without a doubt both of these teams are very strong offensively, so this game may come down to who can get it done defensively. Or it may come down to a forced turnover, unforced error or a missed shot by one of the teams in the waning moments of the contest. This could be a close one, a different outcome than when MSU and Iowa met in East Lansing. That game saw MSU walk out with an 84-70 win despite 30 points and 14 rebounds from the star center Gustafson.

But the road is a different animal for the Spartans.

Michigan State

The Spartans are happily 6-4 in the Big Ten this year after falling to Ohio State, Northwestern, Rutgers and Indiana before getting their first road conference victory at Michigan near the end of January in a game that saw MSU up double digits at one point before eventually winning 77-73.

The win got them to 4-5 away from the Breslin Center, but that’s still one game under .500 when you aren’t in East Lansing. That mark is not the most desirable way to go about your season seeing as MSU has defeated the current No. 3 team in the AP Top 25, Oregon, and the now No. 10 Maryland Terrapins. There are also two wins over formerly ranked Minnesota and current No. 16 Iowa.

The biggest key for this team as they look to choke out a high-powered Iowa offense is getting it done on the defensive side of the basketball, not fouling too often and rebounding the basketball. In the first meeting of the year, the Spartans finished with a +14 rebounding advantage that was led by senior center Jenna Allen.

Allen had 20 points and 17 rebounds in what was one of the best games of her career that came against a top talent when the two teams first met.  

For the Spartans, who average 39.0 rebounds per game, winning this battle on the boards is a key aspect in getting a win on the road. But MSU, which shoots just under 40 percent (good for fifth in the NCAA) as a team on three-point attempts, will look to take advantage of one of Iowa’s glaring defensive weaknesses. Iowa ranks No. 195 in the nation defending the three-point shot (based off opponent three-point percentage).

This will allow players like Shay Colley, Taryn McCutcheon and Jenna Allen to sit back behind the three point line and stick it to the Hawkeyes if they don’t step out.

The Spartans, who struggle to move the ball when playing on the road, are going to have to also get back to what makes them successful.

In a nutshell, the Spartans just need to get it done for one night on the boards and shoot the three well. If they do that, it’s hard to envision MSU not coming out with a victory.

Iowa

The Hawkeyes are led by head coach Lisa Bluder and have also struggled on the road this year. They lost to unranked Purdue, Florida State and Michigan away from home. Their best conference loss came against the Spartans at the Breslin.

In many ways, Iowa is eerily similar to the team they will be facing Thursday night. Both rank in the top 20 teams nationally in scoring, and both are in the top six in not just assists per game but also assist to turnover ratio. These numbers are a testament to how efficiently these two offenses operate, giving us what will probably be a high-scoring affair.

The Hawkeyes, who are glad to see Kathleen Doyle back from a broken hand suffered early in the season, have been rolling on offense since the junior guard returned. Doyle provides much-needed stability at the point guard position, averaging 12.5 points, 5.7 assists and 2.5 steals in 15 games. The team’s best guard has taken much of the pressure off Megan Gustafson and allowed herself and more teammates to get involved in an offense that now has four players averaging in double figures.

The Hawkeyes also are tough to beat in Iowa City. The last time the Hawkeyes fell at home was Jan. 28, 2018 in a 92-74 loss that saw divisional foe Nebraska come out on top.

Obviously without mention, Iowa is lethal because of Megan Gustafson. Gustafson is the leading scorer in the nation and one of the most physically dominant centers in America as well. The superstar had 44 points against Drake earlier this year and is a huge part of what Iowa does on both ends, averaging 12.6 rebounds per game and shooting 70 percent from the floor. Both statistics are easily top ten in the nation.

The two teams will meet Thursday in a clash of Big Ten titans as Allen and Gustafson face off, the two leading seniors on their respective squads.

The No. 23 Spartans and No. 16 Hawkeyes will tip off at 9 p.m., the game can be found on Big Ten Network.