Michigan State can’t blame this one on the absence of Denzel Valentine.
Because Valentine started and played 37 minutes Thursday night.
And yet 16th-ranked Iowa still beat the fourth-ranked Spartans 76-59 to complete a regular-season sweep of Tom Izzo’s team that was, just two weeks ago, ranked No. 1 nationally.
“We had nine days to prepare for them,” Peter Jok, a 6-foot-6 junior, said in a nationally televised interview that followed his 23-point effort that lifted Iowa to its first win at the Breslin Center since 1993. “We’ve been working really hard.”
And playing really well.
The Hawkeyes have won six straight since losing at Iowa State in early December. Their 12-3 record now features five top-50 KenPom wins. They’re 4-0 in the Big Ten.
Indiana is the only other 4-0 team in the Big Ten.
Iowa and Indiana play Feb. 11, then again on March 1.
Six of the Hawkeyes’ first 10 baskets Thursday were 3-pointers, which allowed them to lead 26-15 when Jok sank a long jumper with 10:09 remaining in the first half. It was 47-25 after 20 minutes, and Michigan State never seriously threatened in the second half.
Valentine finished with 14 points, five assists and four rebounds in the loss. The senior guard is now averaging 12.0 points. 4.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds since returning from knee surgery, which caused him to miss four games, including the earlier loss to Iowa. He was averaging 18.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists before the injury.
Bottom line, Denzel Valentine isn’t back to normal yet.
Consequently, neither is Michigan State.