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Joe Boozell | NCAA.com | January 23, 2019

Michigan State-Iowa prediction: 3 stats tell us who will win this top 20 matchup

Andy Katz: POY Candidates

No. 6 Michigan State travels to Iowa City to take on No. 19 Iowa on Thursday night at 7 p.m. ET. You can catch the game on FS1.

Here are three statistical factors that will determine who wins this crucial Big Ten matchup.

Michigan State-Iowa: Prediction, 3 keys

Can Michigan State stay out of foul trouble?

Iowa has the No. 10 offense in the country, per KenPom, and a big reason why is because of how often it gets to the foul line. The Hawkeyes shoot the third highest free-throw rate in the country, and drain them at a solid 75.7 percent clip. That's an incredibly efficient source of offense. Tyler Cook shoots a whopping 7.2 free throws per game, and his supporting cast is good at drawing contact, too.

Michigan doesn't foul any more or less than your typical opponent, but it's going to be interesting to see who draws the Cook assignment. It will likely be Kenny Goins. Goins is a solid defender who isn't asked to do a ton on offense, so if he's unable to contain Cook without fouling, Michigan State can survive.

The Spartans have been phenomenal on defense lately. They rank sixth in the land there and have held four of their last six opponents under 60 points. And those foes weren't slouches  Purdue and Maryland can score. They had no shot against Michigan State.

The Spartans have the technique, lateral quickness and strength to avoid fouling. But keep an eye on this in the beginning part of each half.

Iowa has trouble containing dribble penetration

Perhaps the biggest factor in this game. Michigan State plays inside-out and makes 56.8 percent of its 2s, which ranks 11th. Goins, Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman form a solid frontcourt rotation, and Cassius Winston is excellent at slicing into the paint and either finishing himself or kicking the ball to the open man. He's averaging 7.3 assists.

No. 6 Michigan State takes down Maryland

And Iowa has a hard time containing drivers. It has the No. 96 defense and its downfall on that end is opposing 2-point percentage; the Hawkeyes allow foes to shoot 51.9 percent from inside the line, which ranks 236th. Iowa's two best players are big men, but neither really protects the rim. Point guard Jordan Bohannon has his moments on offense but he'll likely have a hard time staying in front of Winston.

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Iowa might want to try some zone to mitigate this issue, but Michigan State shoots 38.4 percent from 3, so this game has a "pick your poison" feel. The Hawkeyes are skilled, but aren't the most athletic bunch. Winston could have a field day.

The Spartans have plenty of bodies to throw at the Hawkeyes' big guys

As mentioned before, the Spartans have three capable big men in Goins, Tillman and Ward. The frontcourt is a strength for both teams. Cook is Iowa's best player, but don't sleep on Luka Garza.

Iowa upsets No. 16 Ohio State

He only plays 23.3 minutes per game, but he still averages 13.9 points. And he's been getting more burn lately, averaging 30 minutes and 21 points in his last two outings. The 250-pounder is a nightmare matchup down low, and Iowa torches teams who only have one good defensive big (or none).

The 3-point shot is all the rage these days, and for good reason. But this specific matchup is about the big guys. If one member of the Spartans' giant trio gets in foul trouble, it's all good. But if the Hawkeyes are able to send two of them to the bench, they'll have the advantage. With Josh Langford still out, the Spartans are a little thin on perimeter players, and they'd rather not go small.

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Prediction

Michigan State is arguably the hottest team in America right now, having won 12 games in a row. And while the Hawkeyes have been a pleasant surprise this year and are at home, the Spartans are well-equipped to handle their strengths. There's no obvious area for Iowa to exploit.

Score: Michigan State 82, Iowa 74

How we're doing with these predictions

Conference play has not been kind to us. We've dropped to 5-6 on the season, which obviously means we're due.

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  • Our pick: Auburn
  • Result: Loss

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  • Our pick: Virginia
  • Result: Loss

Virginia Tech vs. Virginia (Jan. 15)

  • Our pick: Virginia Tech
  • Result: Loss

Ohio State vs. Michigan State (Jan. 5)

  • Our pick: Michigan State
  • Result: Win

Virginia vs. Florida State (Jan. 5)

  • Our pick: Virginia
  • Result: Win

Kentucky vs. North Carolina (Dec. 22)

  • Our pick: North Carolina
  • Result: Loss

Gonzaga vs. North Carolina (Dec. 15)

  • Our pick: North Carolina
  • Result: Win

Kansas vs. Villanova (Dec. 15)

  • Our pick: Kansas
  • Result: Win

Gonzaga vs. Tennessee (Dec. 9)

  • Our pick: Gonzaga
  • Result: Loss

North Carolina vs. Michigan (Nov. 28)

  • Our pick: North Carolina
  • Result: Loss

Duke vs. Auburn (Nov. 20)

  • Our pick: Duke
  • Result: Win