EAST LANSING, Mich. — Tom Izzo is in his 19th season as Michigan State’s head basketball coach. Now the Big Ten’s fourth-winningest coach of all time, he has lost at least one home game to every Big Ten team with a single, solitary exception.
Izzo is 15-0 at home against Iowa, the Spartans’ opponent in Thursday’s 8 p.m. Big Ten game between Top 25 teams at the Breslin Center.
“You’ll probably jinx me,” Izzo said. “But I do find that hard to believe.”
Iowa has lost 17 straight here overall. The last victory, a 96-90 overtime triumph in 1993, was the Hawkeyes’ first game after the death of star forward Chris Street.
Tom Davis is the last Iowa coach to leave town with a victory. Steve Alford and Todd Lickliter never got it done. This will be Fran McCaffery’s third try.
“When you go through two or three coaching changes in a short period of time, that lends itself to problems,” Izzo said. “I would say it’s not all just the players at Iowa or the players at Michigan State.”
Izzo was also complimentary of McCaffery, whose 24th-ranked Hawkeyes (20-9 overall, 9-7 Big Ten) will try to change history against No. 22 Michigan State (22-7, 11-5).
“Franny’s done an incredible job with that program,” Izzo said. “I think the program’s in the best shape it’s been. He’s an incredible coach, and I think we’re both looking for the same thing. We coach with emotion on our sleeves, and hopefully your team takes on that personality. Sometimes it’s personnel why you don’t quite get there. Sometimes it’s injuries and things.”
The Spartans haven’t been invincible at the Breslin Center this season. Michigan, Nebraska and Illinois all recorded Big Ten wins there. Michigan State has not lost four league home games in the same season since 1996-97, Izzo’s second year.
Injuries have played a major role, with Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson missing extended time, and point guard Keith Appling struggling with a wrist injury. The Spartans did win at Iowa in overtime on Jan. 28 to extend their winning streak againsts the Hawkeyes to seven games. The series record is eight straight, between 1997 and 2001.
Michigan State finally had all its players available for its most recent game, a 53-46 home loss to Illinois Saturday. Izzo went to two-a-day practices during spring break this week to try and get his team back to its cohesive self.
“For the most part we’ve been up and down because of injuries, and not our lack of something,” Izzo said.
Michigan State has traditionally been a lion in March under Izzo, with six trips to the Final Four. Izzo said this team can still spin some late-season magic.
“I don’t think it’s too late,” Izzo said. “I really don’t.”
Iowa hasn’t played at the Breslin Center since getting smashed in 2012, 95-61, the Spartans’ largest margin of victory in the series. That game is best-remembered for McCaffery’s chair slam during a time out, when he challenged his team’s toughness.
“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 who have been through it. And guys who understand runs, and understand difficult road atmospheres, which you face regularly.”
McCaffery said the 2012 game was a painful part of the rebuilding process.
“The reality is that you’ve got to go through that sometimes,” McCaffery said. “And as painful as it is, it’s part of the learning process. For us, that was definitely the case.”
Who: Iowa at Michigan State
Time, TV: 8 p.m., ESPN
Notable: Iowa is 4-4 on the road this Big Ten season. A victory in East Lansing, Mich., would mean the program’s first winning conference road record since the 1997-98 season.