What is going on with Iowa and Michigan State?
Each team opened the year with high expectations and NBA-caliber talent, but when they got into the thick of conference play they found out toughness wins in the Big Ten.
After Iowa”s 75-71 win last night, the Spartans (2-4 Big Ten, 11-8 overall) and No. 24 Iowa (3-4, 14-7) are now ninth and seventh in the conference, respectively.
“We”re not as tough all of a sudden we”re not quite as good defensively,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “That”s what I”ve been complaining about.”
Izzo knows the importance of toughness more than anyone else in the conference. In the last four years, the Spartans won or shared four Big Ten titles, and the team”s football-like style was a big part of that. Many of Izzo”s best players, including Mateen Cleaves and Andre Hudson, brought gridiron experience and attitude with them from high school.
“I”ve always said that players play, but tough players win,” Izzo said.
The Hawkeyes have one of the most intimidating players in all of college basketball in center Reggie Evans, but he still has not proved to be “tough” in the eyes of his coach Steve Alford.
“There”s a big, physical presence to him. He”s a workhorse,” Alford said. “And he”s really aggressive on offense. But we need to carry that toughness to the other end.”
Alford also felt that his team as a whole got soft over the winter break, losing four of its last five games before classes resumed this week.
“Christmas hit, and everybody got to go home and get a bucketload of Christmas presents,” Alford said. “We”ve been spoiled ever since.”
One key example of this pampered behavior came before the team”s 63-50 loss to Northwestern, when instead of concentrating on the upcoming game, the Hawkeyes spent their energy complaining about their lavishly catered meal.
Alford has even threatened to bench his star players, Evans and Luke Recker, to send a message to his team.
“We”re battling with toughness issues,” Alford said. “I”m still trying to figure out how we”re a ranked basketball team.”
Walking wounded: The Spartans” already shorthanded bench is getting shorter by the day. Reserve forward Adam Wolfe suffered a hamstring injury against Penn State on Saturday. He may miss up to a month of action. Wolfe is the Spartans” best 3-point shooter (46.2 percent). Freshman Alan Anderson is also battling a knee injury, leaving Izzo with just six healthy scholarship players. Several Michigan State football players, including 6-foot-4 wide receiver Robert Stickland and 6-foot-5 quarterback Aaron Alexander, are rumored to be joining the depleted Spartans basketball team.
Outsiders: In ESPN.com”s latest projection of the NCAA Tournament field, just four Big Ten teams made the cut. Ohio State holds the top spot in the conference with a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region. Illinois, Indiana and Iowa are also expected to participate at the No. 3, 7 and 10 seeds, respectively.