MSU Basketball: 5 Things We Learned from the Spartans' Win over Iowa

Sean MerrimanCorrespondent IJanuary 11, 2013

MSU Basketball: 5 Things We Learned from the Spartans' Win over Iowa

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    It wasn't pretty by any means. In fact, all you MSU basketball pundits can go ahead and agree that MSU's 62-59 win over Iowa on Thursday night was downright ugly.

    But in the end, a win is a win, and in the ever-so-competitive Big Ten conference, this was a win that Tom Izzo's Michigan State team had to have.

    The much-needed victory pushes the Spartans to 13-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play. It keeps Izzo's team alive in what should be a very entertaining Big Ten race this season. Perhaps more importantly, it buys the Spartans some time to improve and get to where Izzo wants this team to be at before it enters the gauntlet of its conference schedule.

    Thursday's game had plenty of ups and downs, began to paint a picture of what the Spartans' strengths are and showed what they need to work on going forward.

    Let's go ahead and break down five things we learned from the Spartans' road win at Iowa.

Playing on the Road in the Big Ten Is No Easy Task

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    Michigan State's players and coaches knew that traveling to Iowa City and playing in front of a packed house at Carver Hawkeye Arena was going to be a challenge.

    Despite Iowa's 0-3 mark in Big Ten play, this is a solid basketball team that will win plenty of games on its home court this season.

    Chances are that the Hawkeyes will likely finish somewhere in the middle of the pack when the conference season comes to a close. But the fact that this team took Michigan State to the brink just goes to show how hard it is to win on the road in this conference.

    This was a must-win game for the Spartans if they are going to compete for a second consecutive Big Ten regular-season title. While it wasn't pretty, Tom Izzo's team will surely take a conference road win when it can get one.

Branden Dawson Is Coming Around, Slowly but Surely

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    When 5-star mega recruit Jabari Parker stated that one of the main reasons he chose Duke over Michigan State was because of Branden Dawson, that put a ton of unwarranted pressure on MSU's sophomore forward.

    Keep in mind that this is a kid who is just nine months removed from tearing his ACL.

    But the Branden Dawson that MSU fans have been waiting so patiently for came to play on Thursday night against Iowa. He scored a career-high 17 points and sealed the win for the Spartans with a steal and breakaway dunk with 48 seconds left in the game, which put MSU ahead for good.

    Dawson has now scored in double digits and grabbed at least seven rebounds in three of the Spartans' last five games.

    He looks to be gaining some of his explosiveness back, which is huge for a kid who was one of the most athletically gifted freshmen in the nation last year.

    The sky is the limit for Dawson, and from the looks of it, he is heading in the right direction now.

As Keith Appling Goes, so Does MSU

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    Keith Appling is the most experienced guard on this Michigan State team, and if we learned anything about him from Thursday night's game, it's that his play dictates the outcome of a game.

    Despite his 12-point stat line, anyone who watched this game can tell you that Appling did not play in this contest.

    He shot just three-of-13 from the field and wasn't able to find any type of consistency on the offensive end throughout the game.

    However, MSU's star point guard stepped up big late in the game, when his team needed him most. He was a perfect six-of-six from the foul line and knocked down a clutch running jumper in the final minutes of the game to cut the Spartans' deficit to 55-53 with just under two minutes remaining.

    When Appling is on his A-game, this Michigan State team is going to be very hard to beat.

Tom Izzo's Rotation Is Set

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    There were questions heading into the Big Ten season surrounding Tom Izzo's rotation and how many guys would be included.

    I think it's fair to say that Izzo's rotation is set at seven players, with one or two guys added into the mix at a limited capacity.

    The Spartans' five starters, plus reserves Adreian Payne and Travis Trice, all played 19 or more minutes in MSU's win over Iowa. That is the set rotation as of now.

    There were only two other Spartans who appeared in the game—forwards Alex Gauna and Russell Byrd, who played five and four minutes respectively.

    Gauna has improved this season and earned the right to play more, but minutes are hard to come by in the frontcourt with Nix and Payne up front.

    It will be interesting to see if Gauna receives more playing time in the future, but as of right now, it looks pretty clear that Izzo is set on going with a seven-man rotation.

Gary Harris Is the Real Deal

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    Gary Harris is one of three McDonald's All-Americans on Michigan State's roster this season.

    He is also arguably the top freshman in the nation's top conference, which is saying a lot about this kid.

    Through 14 games this season, Harris is averaging 13.1 points per game, which ranks second among Big Ten freshman and 18th overall in the conference. He is averaging 16 points per game in conference play, despite playing with injuries to both of his shoulders.

    Harris has dislocated both his right and left shoulders, and his left one popped out again during Thursday's game against Iowa.

    The Spartans will need Harris on the floor to make a deep run in March. Without him, I don't see that happening.

    It's really that simple.