Spartans welcome in Hawkeyes for Big Ten home opener


Nia Clouden drives in the lane against Detroit Mercy/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Darin Baydoun, Women's Basketball Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING – The Michigan State Spartans (3-0) will host Iowa (4-0) in their Big Ten home opener at 4:00 p.m. Saturday. The Spartans will be looking to make a statement against the first ranked team they’ve faced this season and here are the keys to that potentially happening. 

1. Matching Iowa’s Offense 

The Spartans have gotten off to a strong start on offense this season, scoring 70 or more points in all three games they’ve played this season. When it comes to scoring at least 70, that’s always been a magic number for coach Suzy Merchant and her Spartan squads. 

The Spartans are 167-28 during Merchant’s tenure when they’ve scored at least 70 points. Considering that Iowa is averaging 91.5 points per game this season (No. 17 in the country), the Spartans can’t afford to get bogged down at any point like they did last season when they were in Iowa City and the Hawkeyes outscored them in the fourth quarter 28-9. 

That then brings up another key, which is…

2. Keep the ball flowing 

The Spartans have done a tremendous job at sharing the wealth to start this season, leading the Big Ten in a assists per game, and third in the country. Each of the Spartans’ main perimeter players average at least two assists, led by preseason All-Big Ten guard Nia Clouden with just over five. 

The Hawkeyes themselves don’t rank too far behind in that category themselves, but a large part of that shot creation has come from standout freshman Caitlin Clark, who leads the Hawkeyes in both points and assists with 28.5 and 7.0, respectively. 

For the Spartans, while Clouden is the lead ball handler, she shouldn’t try to force anything in order to match Clark as long as she gets her teammates good looks.

It will be important to keep the focus on Clark defensively, though, which leads to the next key…

1. Keep up the pressure defensively 

Passing isn’t the only thing the Spartans are pacing the country in, as they’re first in the Big Ten and seventh in the country in steals per game with 14.7. For a team that has scored as much as Iowa has so far, the Spartans need to keep the effort they’ve shown on the defensive end. 

Clouden in particular had a career-high five steals in the Spartans’ win at Minnesota. She may not be able to hold Clark scoreless, but if she, Tory Ozment and the Spartan defense can make it hard on the Hawkeyes and force them into some early mistakes, that could help the build an early cushion to improve upon. 

It will need to be group effort, though. Taiyier Parks and the Spartans will have their hands full with Monika Czinano, Iowa’s junior forward averaging 20 points per game on over 70% shooting. 

Prediction: Iowa 85, Michigan State 80 

The Spartans did well in holding down Minnesota’s duo of Jasmine Powell and Kadi Sissoko, but Clark and Czinano have been even better to start this season. 

The game should be competitive, but Iowa has had the Spartans’ number in beating them four out of the last five, including twice last season. Look for Iowa to keep ahead of the Spartans just enough on offense to pull away with a close road win.

Darin Baydoun is a women’s basketball beat reporter for WDBM Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @BaydounDarin.