What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Zach at Maize n Brew, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Michigan.
1) Since the first time Iowa and Michigan met, Michigan's rattled off three wins in four games: an impressive road win at Michigan State and a pair of pretty easy home wins over Purdue and Nebraska. What's been working well for Michigan lately?
ZACH: On offense it has mostly been more of the same. Michigan has been shooting the ball well and finding ways to get good looks at the basket. Even against Michigan State, which largely kept Michigan from being able to attack inside, the Wolverines were able to continually generate good three point looks which proved to be the difference in the game. Defensively, Michigan still isn't great, but the Wolverines don't allow teams to shoot exceptionally well, and Michigan is one of the better teams in the country at defensive rebounding which limits second chance points. Michigan wants its games to be long series in which the two teams trade shots one for one without many fouls, turnovers, or offensive rebounds. When this happens, it is a big advantage for Michigan, which is just flat out better than most everyone in the country at putting the ball in the basket.
2) Michigan suffered their first loss in Big Ten play last Sunday in Bloomington. What went wrong for the Wolverines in that game? It looks like Michigan couldn't shoot straight (40% from the field, 23% from long range), while Indiana could hardly miss (54% from the floor, 62% from deep) -- was that pretty much it?
ZACH: Indiana caught Michigan off guard by doing a couple things to throw Michigan out of its offensive rhythm. First, the Hoosiers deployed Yogi Ferrell to face guard Nik Stauskas throughout the game, which made it difficult for Michigan to set up much of its offense through him. One of the downsides of Stauskas being the focal point of the offense is that this happens occasionally when teams over commit to limiting his touches. Once Indiana had minimized Stauskas's role in Michigan's offense it was simiply a matter of mucking up Michigan's high ball screen offense. Indiana did this by going with some different matchups. The Hoosiers put Will Sheehey on Jordan Morgan and Noah Vonleh on Glenn Robinson III, and every time Michigan ran a high ball screen Indiana switched on it. Moving Sheehey onto Morgan meant that Indiana could switch a capable perimeter defender onto Michigan's guards after a screen. Furthermore, Indiana didn't have to worry about Vonleh getting beat by Robinson because GRIII doesn't have enough of a first step to exploit Vonleh on the perimeter (Vonleh is also a pretty athletic big man, making it an advantageous matchup).
John Beilein commented after the game that it was a defensive strategy he hadn't seen before at UM and that it really threw Michigan off its game early. Michigan was never able to get into a rhythm offensively, and Indiana did a good job limiting three point attempts. Furthermore, Indiana doesn't win the game unless Yogi Ferrell hits seven of his eight three point attempts. Michigan kept it close most of the game, but couldn't overcome the hot hand of Yogi Ferrell against a defensive gameplan that did a good job forcing Michigan out of its comfort zone.
3) Nik Stauskas torched Iowa when Michigan beat Iowa a few weeks ago. Is he going to do that again? It looks like he's been a little quieter the last few games -- has he been taking on a different role in the offense (for instance, he had 9 points on 1/3 shooting against Nebraska, but also had 8 assists and 5 rebounds)?
ZACH: I hope he is. Stauskas is the best player Michigan has and he is very valuable to the offense even when he isn't the one scoring (as evidenced by that Nebraska game). His role in the offense hasn't changed much. Michigan's offense is so diverse that it will take what you give it. Against Nebraska, Stauskas was able to be a facilitator vs. having to carry the scoring load. The issue is that when Stauskas is denied the ball completely (as happened against Indiana and also Duke in December) he doesn't necessarily handle it well, and Michigan's offense as a whole looks like a dog with three legs - it still moves, but not as fast and smooth as it would otherwise. If Iowa takes a page out of Indiana's playbook and face guards Stauskas it could throw him off his game enough to give the Hawkeyes an advantage.
4) That said, it doesn't look like Michigan's offense has skipped too many beats (that Indiana game aside) with Stauskas having some quieter outings. It looks like there's just a rotating cast of guys who can go off for double-digit points on any given night, like Glenn Robinson III, Derrick Walton, Jr., Caris LeVert, and Zak Irvin -- is that accurate? Which guys does Iowa need to be especially wary of on Saturday afternoon?
ZACH: That is the real beauty of Michigan's offense this year: it has so many ways to beat you. Everything starts with Stauskas and Caris LeVert, who initiate most of the offense through high ball screens to get their own shots and set up Michigan's big men with easy finishes at the rim. As teams adjust to try and take that away it opens up passes to shooters on the wings. Derrick Walton, Spike Albrecht, and Zak Irvin all shoot better than 40% from deep and are the beneficiaries of these passes and open looks. Glenn Robinson III is more of an interesting case, as he doesn't have much of an ability to generate shots for himself as the focal point of the offense, but he can absolutely murder teams that overplay other areas of defense.
The player Iowa most needs to worry about is the one it hasn't seen much of. Last time these two teams met, freshman point guard Derrick Walton was on the bench because of the flu. He has been a big part of Michigan's success over the last dozen games as he has grown into a capable starter. Walton is an effective outside shooter, dangerous in transition, and a solid on-ball defender.
5) OK, prediction time -- who ya got? How does this encounter play out?
ZACH: Winning on the road is hard in the Big Ten, but I think Michigan has a good chance of doing so because I like the way these teams match up. Iowa wants to get out and run by creating chaos, forcing turnovers, and generating quick shots. Michigan holds on to the ball exceptionally well, shoots a high percentage, and when that works together it helps Michigan dictate the flow of the game. The last meeting between these teams was a good example of this. Michigan was able to establish the pace which helped throw Iowa off. Furthermore, the Wolverines are very effective when they do decide to push the ball in transition.
However, Iowa's bench wasn't very involved in the first meeting, and shifting the game back home probably means that the Hawkeyes get a more inspired effort from the rotation players. I would also expect a more consistent effort from Aaron White and Roy Marble. Michigan has enough weapons of its own to counteract this, but the pressure will be much higher and there won't be nearly as much margin for error. It will take one of Michigan's best games of the season to pull this win out. Either way, I think the game is close and the winner sneaks out with a 1-3 point margin of victory. Gun to my head I'd say Iowa wins.
Thanks for being a good sport, Zach, although I still hope your team loses by 50 tomorrow. You can check out Zach and the rest of the MnB crew at Maize n Brew. You can also follow Zach on Twitter at @zach_travis and MnB at @MaizenBrew.The Iowa-Michigan game is in Iowa City on Saturday, February 8, and is scheduled to start at 1:00 pm CT, with television coverage from ESPN.