In previewing Wednesday's game, we said that Michigan was winless in games where its opponent scored 71 or better points, and that Iowa had only been held under 71 once all year. This was supposed to be a good sign.
Iowa didn't get to 71. Michigan won. These things are not unrelated.
Michigan's defensive discipline shone through, and Nik Stauskas was phenomenal on the offensive end, as the No. 21 Wolverines defeated No. 10 Iowa 75-67 Wednesday night. Stauskas ended the night with 26 points on 8/14 shooting, while Glenn Robinson III had 14 points and Jordan Morgan added 12. Iowa was led by 17-point performances from Aaron White and Melsahn Basabe, while Roy Devyn Marble added 13.
Michigan's gameplan was flawless. The Wolverines were disciplined on defense, collapsing back into the defensive end, finding their assignments before Iowa's prolific fast-break offense could take advantage, and eliminating any Iowa offense off the dribble drive. The result: Iowa did not get a fast break point until the final seven minutes of the game. Forced into their half court set without their usual catalyst, the Hawkeye offense stagnated, and their notoriously-fast possessions stretched late into the shot clock.
The tempo decided the game. Iowa shot 23/43 from inside the three-point arc, a 53 percent rate that was marginally better than the teams' 51 percent average for the season. There just weren't enough shots to cancel out Michigan's efficient shooting and lack of turnovers. Iowa has played a number of slow-down opponents this season. It had, without exception, forced those opponents into an up-tempo game and exploited their advantage in transition. On Wednesday night, for the first time, an opponent imposed its tempo on Iowa, and Iowa could not find an answer.
Iowa's biggest problem in the last two seasons has been generating offense in the halfcourt set. The ability of Marble and Mike Gesell to get into the paint and break down a defense has largely mitigated that issue, but with the dribble drive taken out by a Michigan defense that rarely left the paint, Iowa spent far too much time working for open shots to keep the game moving as it needed. The halfcourt offense begat the tempo, which led to more slow offense, etc., etc.
The Hawkeyes' bench, which had been so important to their fast start to the season, struggled mightily in Ann Arbor. Iowa got a season-low eight points from the bench on 4/13 shooting, with just two points each from Josh Oglesby, Gabe Olaseni, Jarrod Uthoff, and Zach McCabe. Michigan also allowed Iowa just 21 free throws, 10 below the Hawkeyes' season average. With Oglesby ineffective, the Hawkeyes' three point shooting was nonexistent; the team made just 2 of 10 attempts from behind the arc, both of them from Marble.
Iowa now gets Northwestern over the weekend before a home date with Michigan State. The Hawkeyes are now 2.5 games behind Michigan State and 2 behind the Wolverines in the Big Ten race, but a focus on the title race still seems premature. For now, we've finally seen what happens when Iowa isn't allowed to do what it does best. Whether the Hawkeyes can find a Plan B in those situations could determine just how far this team goes in February and March.