Iowa-Michigan St. Preview

Michigan State still has a shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA

tournament if it can forget about a bitter finish to the regular

season and overcome a season-ending injury to its star

freshman.

The eighth-ranked and top-seeded Spartans will try to help their

cause by winning their first Big Ten tournament title since 2000.

The push to end that drought begins Friday against ninth-seeded

Iowa at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Michigan State (24-7) was denied its first outright Big Ten

regular-season title in three years when Ohio State’s William

Buford hit a last-second shot to give the Buckeyes a 72-70 win in

East Lansing on Sunday. The Spartans, who also fell at then-No. 18

Indiana on Feb. 28, had an early 15-point lead against Ohio State

but wilted after Branden Dawson tore a ligament in his left

knee.

The freshman swingman will likely need six months to recover

from surgery.

Despite the consecutive losses, Michigan State won a piece of

its third regular-season championship in four years, sharing the

crown with Ohio State and Michigan. Winning more titles, however,

could prove difficult without Dawson, the team’s third-leading

scorer (8.4 ppg) and second-best rebounder (4.5 per contest).

“We’ll miss the size and the strength,” coach Tom Izzo said of

the Indiana native. “But we’ll adapt in other ways. I still think

this team has a chance to make a strong run.”

Senior Brandon Wood, averaging 8.2 points, might start in place

of Dawson. Freshmen Travis Trice, Brandan Kearney and Russell Byrd

could also see more playing time.

Izzo might also adjust his lineup to put centers Derrick Nix and

Adreian Payne on the court with conference player of the year

Draymond Green.

“It’ll give somebody else an opportunity,” Izzo said. “Who knows

who else might step up?”

He’ll get a chance to find out against the Hawkeyes, who

advanced to the quarterfinals by rallying for a 64-61 win over

Illinois on Thursday. Leading scorer Matt Gatens (15.7 ppg) led the

way with 20 points in that victory and is averaging 23.0 over the

last six games while shooting 54.9 percent.

“I don’t want to go home,” said Gatens, who has also made 34 of

his last 58 3-point attempts. “I want to keep playing, and I don’t

want to take this uniform off. And I think all the guys feel the

same way.”

The senior guard and his teammates will need a much better

performance than what they showed during a 95-61 drubbing in East

Lansing on Jan. 10. Green had 22 points and 10 rebounds in that

victory and also shined in last season’s tournament opener against

the Hawkeyes.

He had 21 points and 14 rebounds, the most by a Michigan State

player in a conference tournament game, during a 66-61 win. Gatens

missed a potential tying 3-pointer with six seconds left as the

Hawkeyes lost their third straight and eighth of nine in the

series.

Michigan State is 7-7 when the Big Ten tournament has been held

in Indianapolis, but has won five of its seven all-time

quarterfinal games there.