With the first game of the 2011 Big Ten Basketball tournament in the books, we're just mere minutes away from the start of Game Two, which will feature one of the Big Ten's bubble teams, the Michigan State Spartans, taking on the Iowa Hawkeyes. The winner of this one will move on to battle the Purdue Boilermakers in tomorrow's action, and you can see it on ESPN2.
Over at Black Heart Gold Pants, they've visualized Iowa's path to the NCAA Tournament. . .a tall task for a team that was 11-19 overall this season and 4-14 in the Big Ten.
Iowa has beaten Sparty before, and there’s no reason they can’t do it again. The Spartans will be motivated, as a good run in the conference tournament is probably the only way they will make the big dance, but they are still a team of many flaws. Flaw #1: Bad offense. They are worst in the conference in two-point percentage and ninth in three-point percentage. As long as the Hawks don’t give up easy baskets, the Spartans can be counted on to shoot themselves out of the gym. Flaw #2: poor free throw shooting. They are the eighth worst free throw shooting team in the conference, and feature a trio of players (, and ) who all shoot under 70% from the line. I suggest a hack-a-name-starting-with-D strategy. Flaw #3: poor three-point defense. The Spartans are 9th in the conference in opponent three-point percentage, suggesting they have trouble locating shooters on the perimeter. If there’s a game where we need , and to get hot from the perimeter, this is it.
Over at The Only Colors, our Michigan State blog, they have a good idea about how they can beat the Hawkeyes.
Iowa, clearly, is an energy team. They score when they're getting second chances, pushing the ball in transition, forcing turnovers and generally keeping things at a frenetic pace. Things have certainly changed from the Lickliter era. If MSU can continue to take advantage of their size on offense and show more energy of their own on defense, they stand a good chance of winning this one and keeping their tournament streak alive. A failure to match Iowa's effort, and some better luck on jumpshots for the Hawkeyes, could put the Spartans in a very uncomfortable and unfamiliar position indeed.
If you just finished watching the Minnesota/Northwestern game, just keep your set right where it is and stick around for this one.