Next Up: Hawkeyes' 'Game Of The Year' Vs. Michigan State

By Mike Hlas, Reporter

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Devyn Marble (4) steals the ball from Northwestern Wildcats guard Dave Sobolewski (3) during the first half of their game in the first round of the Big Ten Conference basketball tournament Thursday, March 14, 2013 at the United Center in Chicago. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Grant Burkhardt

CHICAGO, Iowa — OK, that mandatory little piece of business is out of the way.

You probably wouldn’t FedEx the tape of the Hawkeyes’ 73-59 Big Ten tournament victory over Northwestern Thursday night to the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame. You might, however, bury it under the tracks of the Skokie Swift rail line if you’re a Wildcat.

Either way, the Hawkeyes’ Game of the Year was never going to be that one. Win or lose, it’s Friday against Michigan State.

We can talk about the whims of the NCAA tournament’s men’s basketball committee from now until Sunday at 5 p.m. What matters and what doesn’t, no one knows but those nine men and one woman sequestered in Indianapolis.

What sure seems likely, though, is Iowa needing to knock off the eighth-ranked Spartans to get into the big tourney. Whether a win Friday would do the trick, I have no idea. Some say yes, some say no. Neither camp knows.

But Iowa’s chances would sure get a lot better with that win in its ledger.

Sometimes, teams that already have their NCAA beds feathered make little more than token appearances at their conference tourneys. They conserve their energy, and dial it up again once they’re playing in the tournament everyone remembers.

However, Michigan State rarely conserves. Tom Izzo has 18 victories and three championships in this event, more than any other coach.

The Spartans kind of glided through their 71-61 home win over Northwestern Sunday that closed their regular-season. That performance probably wasn’t the ideal thing for Iowa. Izzo undoubtedly chewed on his guys all week, and the man knows how to chew.

MSU is no mystery. As usual, the Spartans like to flex their muscles, on the boards and in screening teams into oblivion. They are of a belief that basketball is indeed a contact sport. But they also always have players of great skills, and this year’s team is no exception.

However, even with a 24-7 record, nothing suggests invincibility from the Spartans. When they met Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan in succession late in the season, they lost to each. Just one win out of those three games would have given MSU another title-share.

Iowa lacks a single big win against a highly ranked team. It doesn’t have a victory of any significance away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But it got its feet wet in a good way here Thursday, and is playing with purpose and passion.

The Hawkeyes could have and probably should have blown out Northwestern. After building a 29-11 lead, they didn’t close. Well, they did, but not with enough authority to feel great about things.

But they got their feet wet here. Freshman guard Mike Gesell got back in the swing of fthings very nicely after a four-game absence due to a foot injury. Backcourt mate Devyn Marble played like a leader and a go-to guy down the stretch.

In a game that had tightened up, though not to the point of being truly scary for the Hawkeyes, they made four 3-pointers from the 9:25 to the 4:45 marks of the second half, then had no more need to fire threes. That from a team not known for its perimeter prowess.

But all of that became immediate ancient history once the game ended. It’s Friday or probably never for the Hawkeyes this season. Unless the NIT holds some deep meaning for them.

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