DES MOINES - If Michigan State thought that hosting Michigan without two starters was tough, wait until it gets to Iowa.
The Hawkeyes have been waiting a long time for a game this big.
A home win tonight over the seventh-ranked Spartans would be crucial to Iowa's Big Ten title hopes. The Hawkeyes (16-4, 5-2 Big Ten) will also go for a school-record 21st straight victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena against a program that's almost always a factor for the league title.
"If you're going to win a championship - for any team in this league - you're going to go through Michigan State. That's just the standard that (Michigan State coach) Tom (Izzo) has set," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "There's a respect factor there and a realization that to beat them is something special."
But the team Izzo will bring to Iowa City might not be as special as the one he hopes to have by March.
Michigan State forward Branden Dawson (10.2 points and 8.7 rebounds a game) is out for at least a month with a broken right hand. Senior Adreian Payne (16.2 points and 7.7 rebounds) will also likely miss his sixth straight game with a foot injury. Izzo said Monday that Payne is "very doubtful" for the Iowa game.
Michigan State (18-2, 7-1) at Iowa (16-4, 5-2)
Tonight, 6:05 p.m.
At Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
Still, Izzo was encouraged by the toughness his undermanned team showed in Saturday's loss to Michigan.
Spartans star Keith Appling had 10 points and 10 assists despite a painful wrist injury on his right shooting hand, and yet Michigan State had the game tied with less than four minutes left.
"This gives us a little bit of confidence. We were down two of our best players and played pretty well against them. We just have to regroup and tear up the rest of the Big Ten," Michigan State forward Matt Costello said.
The Spartans (18-2, 7-1) are hoping to simply match what Iowa accomplished a week ago: Answer a loss to league-leading Michigan with a win on the road.
The Hawkeyes fell for just the second time in the Big Ten last week, losing 75-67 up in Ann Arbor. But they bounced back with their second rout of Northwestern this season, beating the Wildcats 76-50 in Evanston.
Northwestern had defeated Illinois, Indiana and Purdue in a span of nine days. But the Hawkeyes overwhelmed the Wildcats with their depth, outrebounding Northwestern 44-20 while getting scoring from nine different players.
The absence of Dawson and Payne could be especially difficult for Michigan State because Iowa has nearly a dozen players it uses in Big Ten play.
"I think that's rather unique, to have that many players all of whom could legitimately be starters because the reality is we all know everybody wants to start," McCaffery said. "We have guys that don't care if they start. They know they're going to play. They know they're going to have a valuable role, and they share the ball."
Izzo sees the game as a chance for the Spartans to show their mental toughness and character, and he's confident his team will stick together.
"Whether you can regroup and come off an emotional game like that and get ready for arguably one of the best teams in the league on the road, we're going to find out a little bit more about our team. But I like our chances. I really do," Izzo said. "This team pulls for each other better than any other team I've had here."