Michigan St.-Iowa Preview
A winter storm heading towards East Lansing forced Michigan State coach Tom Izzo to cancel his weekly press conference and get his team headed to Iowa City ahead of schedule.
He didn't have any time to plan for the unexpected absence of do-it-all star Denzel Valentine either, but Valentine's teammates helped the top-ranked Spartans avert disaster in their first game without him.
Michigan State will play at last two more games until Valentine will be able to return, including Tuesday night's Big Ten opener at Iowa as it looks to win a 10th straight meeting with the Hawkeyes.
Valentine had minor knee surgery last week, and Izzo said before the team departed Monday that the national player of the year candidate hasn't experienced any setbacks but would need another week and a half to recover.
That time frame would keep Valentine out against the Hawkeyes (9-3) and Saturday at Minnesota, with the earliest chance of returning being at home against Illinois on Jan. 7.
The Spartans (13-0) secured the best start in school history with a 99-93 overtime victory over Oakland last Tuesday in Detroit, but it was clear they missed Valentine at times.
Bryn Forbes scored a career-high 32 points and hit 7 of 9 from 3-point range, and West Virginia transfer Eron Harris had his best game as a Spartan with 27 while starting in place of Valentine to help the Spartans survive.
Despite the close call, Michigan State received all but one vote to remain the No. 1 team in the nation for a school-record fourth straight week.
''I'm not really worried about the points I scored,'' Harris said. ''That's what I'm supposed to do. I'm just glad I got to be part of the win and making history."
Michigan State hasn't lost to Iowa since Feb. 2, 2011, in Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery's first game against the Spartans. He's since lost all nine meetings, including when Iowa blew an 11-point halftime lead in a 75-61 home defeat in the only meeting last season.
Valentine scored 18 points in that matchup, but the Hawkeyes won't have to contend with him this time as they seek a third consecutive win. Iowa beat Drake by six on Dec. 19 and routed Tennessee Tech 85-63 last Tuesday after blowing a 14-point lead in an 83-82 loss at then-No. 4 Iowa State on Dec. 10.
Peter Jok overcame a shaky start to score 21 points with a career-high five 3-pointers in the last contest after going 2 for 10 from the field and scoring four points against Drake.
''I put him right back in and he just took over the game,'' McCaffery said. ''And that's the Peter Jok we need to see. When his game is tight like that, he affects the game at both ends.''
Jok scores 13.3 per game to rank second on the team behind Jarrod Uthoff, who is averaging 18.3 points despite being held to 13 last Tuesday. Uthoff had 12 in last season's meeting with the Spartans as Jok finished with only eight, and McCaffery hopes he'll get better performances from both in this matchup.
"I think any time you enter into conference play, you recognize a challenge and we'll do everything we can to get everybody ready," McCaffery said. "I think we're in a pretty good place."
Michigan State's 15 victories at Iowa are the most of any Hawkeyes opponent in Iowa City.