A major conference showdown between two ranked foes almost always makes for a prime time affair.
When the Iowa basketball team takes the floor tonight in East Lansing against no. 22 Michigan State, a national television audience will be provided with exactly that.
Add in the big game-validating color commentary/play-by-play combo of Dick Vitale and Dan Shulman, and you’ve got yourself about as exciting of a regular season environment as can be created in college hoops.
Both teams, in particular the 24th ranked Hawkeyes, will be looking to generate momentum with conference and NCAA tournament play right around the corner. A win moves Iowa one step closer to clinching the fourth and final bye in the upcoming Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. It would also do wonders for the national perception of the team. One that has taken a hit in recent weeks.
Of course beating the Spartans, led by the legendary Tom Izzo, on their home floor is not going to be an easy task. In fact it hasn’t actually been accomplished since 1993 (two years before Izzo took over as head coach).
If Iowa wants to buck that trend tonight it’s going to take one heck of an effort to do so.
The Hawkeyes have been somewhat berated by both local and national media, and justifiably so, for their performance over a stretch of games the past two weeks. Pundits and prognosticators have seemingly fallen completely out of love with an Iowa team they at one time were propping up as a trendy “sleeper” Final Four pick.
Does a road win at the Breslin Center completely alter the increasingly negative opinions of the Hawkeyes? Probably not. But it would go a long way towards restoring at least some of the previous faith so many people once had in the team.
Michigan State is another team that has fallen short of expectation thus far, although that can be attributed almost entirely to a roster littered with injuries at different times to four key players. The prevailing sentiment about the Spartans is that should they gel by the time March Madness begins they are as big of a threat as anyone to win the whole thing.
The Hawkeyes will not be extended that same courtesy. They need to prove their worth by winning games on the court.
As I mentioned earlier, history is not on Iowa’s side entering this evening. However, that should be the last thing on this team’s mind as they prepare to play. The lone focus should be concentrated on what made facing the Hawkeyes such a frightening proposition for opponents earlier this season.
I’ve made it clear in previous articles that fans should still have faith in this Iowa team no matter how difficult it may have been recently to hold a positive outlook, and I’ll stand by that. This team has the make up to have success down this crucial stretch of the season, but consistently winning is the only way for its abilities to be acknowledged by the college basketball world.
Yet another premier stage has been set for the Hawkeyes tonight. If they want to be respected as badly as players like senior Devyn Marble say they do, an internal desire and resiliency needs to be shown against the Spartans.
I expect Marble to bring his “A-game”, but it should become clear fairly early in the game whether or not the Hawkeyes as a collective unit have what it takes to get the job done in one of the last chances “experts” will give them to make an impression this season.