Devyn Marble never has won a college basketball game in his home state of Michigan. Tonight is his last chance.
But he said that’s not what will be driving him when the Iowa basketball team takes on No. 22 Michigan State at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Marble said he just wants to win, period. He wants to further improve Iowa’s seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. He wants to continue driving toward the NCAA Tournament. The venue is irrelevant.
“I just want to win because I just want to continue to keep winning," Iowa’s senior guard said.
But it doesn’t hurt that the team the 24th-ranked Hawkeyes are facing is a perennial Big Ten power that has beaten Iowa in 11 of the past 12 meetings and scratched out close victories over the Hawkeyes each of the last three times they’ve played.
“I’m tired of losing to them," Marble admitted. “We’re going to try and prepare properly and be focused for the game."
A victory in tonight’s 8 p.m. clash would further tighten Iowa’s grip on the No. 4 seed — and accompanying first-round bye — in the Big Ten Tournament with just one regular-season game remaining. It actually would keep alive hopes for landing the No. 3 seed.
But that won’t be easy against a Michigan State team that finally is getting close to being full strength.
The Spartans, who were ranked second in the nation in the preseason polls, have gone through a succession of physical ailments. None of their four star players has appeared in every game this season and the result has been six losses in the past 10 games.
Star center Adreian Payne missed seven games with a foot injury. Leading rebounder Branden Dawson sat out 10 games with a broken hand. Point guard Keith Appling has been playing with a wrist injury that coach Tom Izzo thinks limited him as much mentally as physically. Shooting guard Gary Harris missed three games early in the season.
All of them finally are back on the court together, but it hasn’t translated into immediate success. The Spartans have lost two straight, including a home loss to Illinois on Saturday that gave the Big Ten title to instate rival Michigan.
“I think when you get those guys back initially, there's a little bit of an adjustment period and I think you've seen that with them," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “But ultimately they are better. You're talking about a couple of the premier players in our league. So they are going to impact the game in a very positive way.
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“Payne is really starting to look like himself. Dawson looks healthy. But you've just got to get back playing. And I think we'll see a different Appling."
Izzo said the injuries altered the way the Spartans played and he said they’re still searching for their identity.
“We have to get a little tougher," he said. “I had my toughest guys out when I had Appling and Dawson out. I know why some of the things have happened. It’s just a matter of whether we can speed this process up now in the next week or two."
Michigan State defeated Iowa in overtime in an earlier game in Iowa City in which Payne and Dawson didn’t play and Harris was held to nine points.
The Hawkeyes never have defeated the Spartans in East Lansing in Izzo’s 19 years as head coach, something he said he can scarcely believe.
McCaffery said he thinks his team is much better equipped to do it this time than when the Hawkeyes last visited Breslin, resulting in a 95-61 loss in 2012.
“We’re a much deeper team, we’re a much more physical team, we’re bigger. We’re also more experienced," McCaffery said. “We have guys that have been through it, guys that understand runs, that understand rough road atmospheres."