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Hawkeyes and Spartans duke it out in Big Ten tourney quarterfinals

The top-seeded Michigan State Spartans seeded Iowa Hawkeyes in the quarterfinals this afternoon in Indianapolis.

Iowa prevailed in its first-round matchup with ninth-seeded Illinois on Thursday, 64-61, upping its overall record to 17-15. While the season hasn't exactly been a rousing success for the Hawkeyes, they have played much better of late, winning four of their last six games, including back-to-back wins over nationally-ranked opponents Indiana and Wisconsin near the end of the regular-season.

Michigan State is having yet another spectacular season, sitting with a 24-7 overall record and the No. 8 ranking in the most recent AP poll. The Spartans' 13-5 league ledger gave them a share of the Big Ten regular-season title with Ohio State and Michigan, but they could have had the honor all to themselves had they not dropped their last two games. Still, through virtue of the tie- breaker, MSU earned the No. 1 seed in this tournament.

Michigan State holds to a 65-53 advantage in the all-time series with Iowa, which includes a 95-61 blowout win in East Lansing on Jan. 10 in the only meeting during the regular season.

Iowa nearly squandered a six-point advantage to Illinois in the final 37 seconds of Thursday's first round, allowing the Illini to claw their way back to within one, 62-61. But with a pair of free-throws and a missed Illini three-pointer later, the Hawkeyes came out victorious. As a team, they only shot 40.4 percent from the field, but Matt Gatens had a solid afternoon, shooting 7-of-12 from the floor for 20 points. Aaron White was also effective in the win, tallying 13 points and nine rebounds. Gatens (15.7 ppg) has been great all year, but his game has really picked up at the most crucial time, averaging an outstanding 22.7 ppg over the last seven games, while knocking down 31 three-pointers during in that time. Roy Devyn Marble (11.1 ppg, 3.6 apg) and White (10.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) have also been effective for a solid Hawkeye scoring attack which ranks third in the Big Ten (72.1 ppg).

Michigan State has a great combination of explosive offense (71.9 ppg) and a classically stout Big Ten defense (58.7 ppg), resulting in a scoring margin of +13.2, second only to Ohio State in the conference. Its field goal percentage defense has been especially great, ranking second in the nation in allowing its opponents to connect on a woeful 37.6 percent from the field. The straw that stirs the drink for the Spartans is Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green, who ranks sixth in scoring (16.2 ppg) and first in rebounding (10.3 rpg). Green contributes a little bit of everything, adding 1.5 three- pointers per game at a 40.5 percent clip, 3.5 apg, 1.5 spg, and 0.9 bpg, as he was also named to the All-Defensive Team as well. Keith Appling has been solid in support of Green this year, posting 11.5 ppg and 3.8 apg. MSU is led by long-time head coach Tom Izzo, who just won his third Big Ten Coach of the Year award.