#16 Iowa (13-3) vs. Michigan (13-4)
Time: 3:30 p.m. CT
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
TV/Streaming: Big Ten Network/BTN2Go
Line: Iowa -6.5
When Iowa Has the Ball
Note: All numbers in this piece come from Kenpom or Sports Reference. Additionally, ratings in the four factors charts are scaled so that 100 = average. Thus, above 100 is above average, while below 100 is below average. For example, Iowa's 108 shooting rating means that their eFG% has been 8% better than the national average this year, while Michigan's 102 means they have been 2% better at contesting opponent shots this season.
The Hawkeyes have a big advantage here. Offense has been their big strength all season, while defense has been Michigan's big weakness. Michigan is still above average on defense for the season, but since entering Big Ten play, they have given up 1.05 adjusted points per possession. Iowa, meanwhile, has poured in 1.14 adjusted points per possession, and they have done so while playing 3 of their 4 games against teams with defenses in the Kenpom Top 20.
The Hawkeyes shoot the ball well, but have struggled with two-pointers since Big Ten play started. Of course, that likely has to do with playing against a Purdue team with two 7-footers and a Michigan State team that has guys like Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis down low to contest shots. Michigan has Mark Donnal, but this Wolverine team is not nearly as talented on the inside as Michigan State or Purdue were. That means Iowa should likely shoot better from two-point range in this contest, as well as continue to hit their outside shots because Michigan isn't very good at contesting really anything.
We also shouldn't expect many Iowa turnovers against Michigan. Holding onto the ball has been a clear strength for this team this season, and Michigan's defense doesn't force turnovers much above the average rate. But they do keep opponents off the line well and grab defensive rebounds, which could potentially help them against this Iowa team. I do say "potentially", however. And that is because Iowa has looked improved on the offensive glass and they have also been visiting the free throw line more often since Big Ten play started. Iowa's offensive rebounding rate is up from 32% in the non-conference to 33% in the conference. That 1 percentage point uptick may not seem like much, but considering that it came against two teams that are #10 and #11 in the country in defensive rebounding, we may be in store for more of an uptick as Iowa's schedule softens. Finally, Iowa is currently #1 in Big Ten play in free throw rate. Their 42.7 Big Ten free throw attempts per 100 field goal attempts is way up from their 25.8 in the non-conference.
Overall, Iowa is just too good on offense. They shoot the ball well, they don't turn it over, and they have looked much better in their weaker areas lately against great competition. They should be just fine on offense in this one.
When Michigan Has the Ball
Here is where Michigan holds their own with any team in the conference. They don't rebound and they don't visit the free throw line much, but they rarely waste a possession with a turnover or a missed shot. Michigan's offense is heavily-reliant on the three-point shot falling, since they take 46% of their attempts from downtown, and sometimes have games where they attempt more than 50% from outside (*cough* Maryland *cough*). They are also draining 42% of their tries from deep this season, so it's not like taking almost half of their shots from out there is a bad strategy.
But Iowa has been good at contesting three-pointers this season, and they have had success against Beilein's offenses over the last few years. Last season's Michigan offense wasn't this good, but the 2014 iteration did finish the season as Kenpom's top offense in the country. Iowa held them to 1.05 points per possession, kept them to a reasonable 36% from downtown, and won by 18. That Michigan team shot a similar number of threes and converted at similar rate. In my opinion, Fran's strategy on ball screens really works against Beilein's screen-heavy offense. McCaffery coaches Iowa to hedge hard and takeaway the drive or the three-point attempt from the ball-handler, and forces the opposing team to beat them on the roll. Michigan wants that open three, though, and is less likely to be able to compete with opposing teams if they aren't attempting and making them at a high clip.
In total, I think Michigan's offense is good enough that they will still probably score over a point per possession in Sunday afternoon's match up. That being said, I think Iowa's ball-screen defense should force enough Michigan threes to clank Iron that they can't keep up with Iowa's offensive attack.
Style of Play
From a tempo perspective, Iowa plays at a faster pace than Michigan. The Hawkeyes average a little under 70 possessions per game this season, while Michigan is right around 66. On offense, Iowa's average possession length is 16.3 seconds for the season and 17.3 seconds in Big Ten play. Again, that's quite a bit faster than Michigan, whose season average is 18.5 and whose Big Ten average is 19.2. On defense, both teams' opponents have held the ball for an average of 17.7 seconds on the year.
When it comes to shooting, Michigan is the superior shooting team. And they have to be, because they don't have anything else working for them on offense if their shots aren't falling.
As for the types of shots each team likes, Michigan is skewed heavily in favor of the three-pointer when you compare them to the average Division I team. Iowa, on the other hand, is almost directly comparable to the average Division I team.
Finally, when we look at points, Iowa is right around average in points from two-pointers, but gets more of their scoring from three-pointers than average and less from free throws. Michigan, of course, is extremely reliant on making their threes, as there are only two teams in all of Division I basketball that are getting a higher percentage of their points from three-pointers this season.
Players to Watch
Note: A quick reminder on how this chart works. The horizontal axis represents a player's usage rage, while the vertical axis represents a player's offensive rating. The circle size represents playing time (bigger means more time on the court). This chart should tell us how involved in the offense the player is, how efficient they are in doing so, and in how many minutes per game do they accomplish all of this.
The big question coming into this game for Michigan, is whether or not Caris LeVert will be healthy enough to play. Currently, he is listed as day-to-day, and John Beilein is staying pretty quiet on the issue. If you look at the chart above, you can see why it's a big deal that LeVert may not be in their starting lineup against Iowa. When he does play, he's on the court for 32 minutes per game, he uses the most possessions out of anyone on the team, and he's extremely efficient (28th in the country) in doing so. Not only is he hitting 45% of his threes on the season, but he's dangerous off of ball screens, where he can drive to the basket, pull up and shoot, or find the open man rolling to the basket or out on the perimeter. Similar to Michigan State and Denzel Valentine, when Caris LeVert isn't on the court, the Wolverines are not only missing his ability to create shots for himself (17.6 points per game), but also for others (5.2 assists per game). And they also lose one of their best defensive players, too.
With the possibility of LeVert being out for a fourth straight game, the pressure falls on juniors Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton to create on offense. Walton is the starting point guard for this team, who plays almost 30 minutes per game, and averages about 10 points and 4 assists during that time. John Beilein's offense utilizes tons of ball screens and Derrick Walton is one of the key recipients of these. Walton, like LeVert (although, to a lesser extent), has the ability to find the open man on the pick and roll, pull up and shoot, or attack the basket. The thing with Walton is that when he does attack the basket, he has struggled to finish in traffic throughout his career. Walton makes up for the fact that he's only shooting about 33% from inside the arc by shooting 53% outside of it. And three-pointers account for a little over half of his attempts this year, so they are not a small part of his game. On the defensive end of the court, he's 135th in the country in steals, while only averaging 2.5 fouls called on him per 40 minutes. He's also an incredible defensive rebounder for a 6'1" point guard. His 21.6% defensive rebounding rate is 136th in the country, and the best rate of anybody who will take the court on Sunday.
Irvin, meanwhile, is versatile forward that has experience playing in the post or on the wing. He's the least efficient guy on offense in their starting lineup, but he still averages almost 10 points per game and has an eFG% of 50%. He hit some big threes against Maryland, but he's only making 27% of his tries from out there on the season. However, he is a career 36% shooter, so Iowa should take him seriously from long range. When he gets inside the arc, he can get a little jump shot heavy, but he knocks them down at a nice clip, so it doesn't really hurt the offense. He's also the other primary guy Michigan utilizes ball screens for, and he is able to shoot, drive, or pass as well as the other guys out of this set, too.
Next, and honestly, the guy I am most worried about is Duncan Robinson. He is an incredible story. He started his career at Division III Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts and was the 2014 Division III Rookie of the Year and named a Division III All-American. He sat out last season as a redshirt, and is now continuing his ridiculous play in Division I as a sophomore this season. The only thing to really know about Robinson is that he shoots a lot of threes, and he rarely misses. 83% of his 7 field goal attempts per game this season have come from downtown, and he is converting on 56% of them. He is averaging 12 points per game, is currently the 5th best three-point shooter in the country, and is #1 in eFG% and offensive efficiency. Or, in English, Kenpom has him as the most efficient player in the nation.
So how does Michigan utilize him? Well, in the same manner that Iowa uses Peter Jok. In the half-court offense, they run Robinson off a variety of screens in order to get him open looks. And his release is just so quick that he doesn't need much room to get his shot off. Michigan isn't known for their up-tempo approach, but when they do get out and run, Robinson also has the ability to kill opponents in transition. Like Jok, he runs the court well and fans out to the wing so he's open for a good look at three when the defense runs back to defend the basket.
Did I mention he also has Jarrod Uthoff range? Yeah... the kid is good.
If LeVert is unable to play, then sophomore Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman will be the guy who starts in his place. MAAR -- as many Michigan people call him, due to the length of his full name -- is a talented youngster that tends to be overshadowed when LeVert is healthy. He showed promise as a freshman last year when LeVert was injured, but his role and production shrunk this season when the star player was healthy again. But since LeVert has been out again, he's averaging almost 15 points per game. He's shooting 40% from three-point range this season, but he tends to put the ball on the floor and shoot from closer up more often. He will likely be Anthony Clemmons' man to guard, so hopefully Clemmons can keep him under 15 points.
Now, we all know that John Beilein's teams are always perimeter-oriented and he always has at least four guys on the floor at all times that can shoot from deep. But he does have some post players, and one in particular that I should mention; and his name is Mark Donnal. The light seems to have come on for Donnal since Big Ten play started because he now appears to be the coaching staff's preferred big man, as his minutes per game have jumped from the low-to-mid teens in non-conference play to 24 per game against Big Ten competition. Donnal is the main guy that sets ball screens for LeVert, Irvin, and Walton and that means he is the main recipient of easy buckets off the roll. Case in point, here's a clip of Irvin and Donnal abusing Illinois with the screen and roll.
We all know Iowa hedges hard on the ball-handler in these situations, which helps them not get burned from three and doesn't let the guy with the ball attack off the dribble. However, it does leave them vulnerable at times to easy lay-ins off the roll when the help defense doesn't rotate fast enough or Woodbury can't recover quick enough. That being said, Iowa probably prefers to take that gamble rather than getting burned from downtown against a team that can light it up from distance.
Besides the pick and roll game, Donnal is the best all-around rebounder on the team and he's not a bad shot-blocker, either. He has the tendency to get called for a few too many fouls sometimes, though, so if Woodbury, Uthoff, or Gesell can get him in some early foul trouble, that wouldn't be a bad thing.
Off the bench, Michigan has forward Aubrey Dawkins, who is making 46% of his threes this season and 61% of his twos, while averaging 8 points in 17 minutes per game. They also have a few more posts that are not quite as good as Donnal, in Ricky Doyle, Moritz Wagner, and D.J. Wilson. Doyle plays the most out of the trio, but his stock has fallen recently with the emergence of Donnal. Wagner and Wilson are both promising freshman, but they still have a lot of room to grow before they see more playing time. I doubt we see them much on Sunday, barring injury or blowout.
What Kenpom Thinks
Kenpom Rankings: Iowa #4 (!), Michigan #30
Projected Outcome: Iowa 78 (85%), Michigan 67 (15%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.18, Michigan 1.02
Projected Possessions: 66