Iowa (20-9) vs. Michigan (20-10)
Time: 7:00 p.m. CT
Location: Crisler Center
Tickets: University of Michigan
TV/Streaming: Big Ten Network/BTN2Go
Line: Iowa -1
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 100 shooting rating means that their eFG% has been equal to the national average during Big Ten play, while Michigan's 92 means they have been 8% worse at contesting opponent shots.
A few things have changed since Iowa last played Michigan about six weeks ago, as the Hawkeyes have transformed from a perimeter-oriented team that could shoot with the best of them into a more classic Fran McCaffery-esque offense that depends heavily on free throws and offensive rebounds. As you can see on the chart above, those are the two areas that Michigan's defense excels in.
But while rebounding and fouls look like they could be a good battle on this side of the ball, Iowa looks to have a huge advantage in the shooting and turnover categories. Yes, Iowa's offense has been in a funk lately, but I really don't see anyone on this Michigan roster that can guard Jarrod Uthoff. Even with Uthoff's recent struggles from long range, he should be able to score at the rim against this Michigan team pretty easily. In the last game between these two teams, Jon Beilein primarily used Duncan Robinson and Zak Irvin in man-to-man on U and that didn't go very well.
Uthoff had 23 points on a 50% eFG% against those guys. Robinson has height, but isn't a great defender and Irvin has muscle, but isn't tall enough. Michigan also struggled to contain Peter Jok in the second half of the last contest, and I think he should be able to get his points against this defense again, too.
Despite recent offensive struggles for the Hawkeyes, Michigan's defense just isn't very good. Thus, I have to go with Iowa on this end of the court.
When Michigan Has the Ball
Offense is pretty clearly the strength of this Michigan team, as they have an adjusted PPP total of 1.18 in Big Ten play this season. That's made even more impressive by the fact that Caris LeVert has played in only two Big Ten games this season. Iowa, on the other hand, even with recent struggles, is still at 0.94 for the conference season.
Michigan's offense is like their defense, only flipped. Instead of relying solely on the free throw rate and rebounding categories, the offense relies heavily on shooting the lights out and not turning the ball over. The strategy is basically for them to shoot a crap-ton of threes and never give their opponent the ball for free. And they had mixed results in those areas the last time they played Iowa.
For instance, Michigan gave the ball up on 20% of their possessions against Iowa's defense, which is quite a bit more than their 15.5% average in conference games this season. Wolverine players seemed to have extra issues with turnovers when they tried to penetrate the middle of Iowa's 2-3 zone. So that's something to keep in mind this time around because we know that McCaffery is going to throw the zone out there on a decent number of possessions.
Additionally, Michigan shot the ball very well against Iowa last time out, but they didn't start raining threes until the second half of the game, which helped limit the damage. In the first half, Iowa's aggressive hedging on ball screens forced Michigan to score 9 of their 13 first half buckets in the paint, as they took the roll man (usually Mark Donnal) that Iowa was giving them in the screen and roll game. That trend wouldn't last, though, as the Wolverines went from attempting 9 threes before halftime to 19 in the second half. And, even more important, they made 8 of them in the final twenty minutes.
As those of you who have been reading these previews all season know, Iowa's defense doesn't really suppress opponent three-point attempts. Their foes tend to shoot a lot of them, but they tend not to connect on a good chunk of them consistently. (That, or they shoot 100% on them in one half, and then barely make any of them in the other half.) And that will likely be the key to this side of the ball once again. Michigan is likely going to shoot a decent rate from outside, considering that is their strength and they will be on their home court. So Iowa's best bet at keeping this Michigan team in check on this side of the ball is limiting the amount of threes they shoot. If Iowa's defense can stick with Michigan's shooters off the ball and force the ball-handlers to give up the ball to the man rolling to the basket off of ball screens, they should be able to limit Michigan's offensive output.
Of course, that's easier said than done. The Wolverines will always have a lineup on the court that has four or five guys that can fill it up from deep. And, at home, Michigan's offense is going to get their points. If Iowa wants to win this game, their offense will likely have to be better than Michigan's for the second time this season.
Style of Play
Unsurprisingly, Michigan plays at a slower pace than Iowa. The Hawkeyes are averaging about 70 possessions per game this season and 68 in Big Ten play, while the Wolverines are at approximately 67 on the season and closer to 66 in conference games.
Both teams' defenses force their foes to hold the ball longer than the Division I average (Iowa's to a greater extent, though), which leaves the offenses as the main difference in time of possession. Michigan holds the ball on offense for an average of almost 18.5 seconds on every possession, while Iowa does so for only about 16 seconds. (The Division I average is 17.3.) However, just because Michigan usually plays at a slower tempo, that doesn't mean Iowa can afford to be lazy while getting back on defense. This Wolverine team isn't afraid to take a quick shot, and guys like Duncan Robinson run straight to the wing in transition, and he will not hesitate to shoot (and usually make) a transition three.
Looking at how both teams shoot, Michigan has the advantage across the board on offense. The Hawkeyes have been terrible inside the three-point line lately, and their three-point shooting has been okay, but nothing special. And then there is that whole missing free throw thing in the second half of games...
On defense, Iowa is better at contesting shots. Michigan's 55% allowed on two-pointers against conference offenses this season gives me hope that Iowa can start making their damn shots near the rim.
When we look at the type of shots each team takes, we can see that Iowa has been attempting more twos than the Division I norm during Big Ten play, Michigan, meanwhile, is giving up more three-point attempts on average. When these teams played last time, Iowa took 36% of their attempts from long range, so I'm curious to see if Iowa has more open looks from three against this Wolverine defense again.
On the other end, Iowa's defense also gives up a lot of attempts from the perimeter, and no team in the conference shoots more threes in the Big Ten than Michigan. Last time, they attempted more than half of their field goals from out there, so get ready for that to likely happen again tonight. Hopefully Iowa's long arms can contest those shots.
As for scoring, Iowa's offense is getting most of their points from beyond the three-point and at the free throw line, while Michigan's defense is getting eaten up anywhere but at the charity stripe. Meanwhile, Michigan's offense is ridiculously dependent on the long ball falling. Iowa's defense, on the other hand, is giving up points on two-pointers at a high rate, but not on anything else.
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.
If you are wanting a breakdown of what each Michigan player's game consists of, feel free to look back at the preview I wrote for the game between these two teams in January. For this second battle, I want to focus on some player match ups.
Now, Michigan has a lot of talented players, but without Caris LeVert this offense really relies heavily on juniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin. Michigan utilizes ball screens on both of them in order to create offense, and with both shooting 36% and 39% from downtown against Big Ten defense this season, it is imperative that Iowa aggressively hedge those screens and take away any open looks from three. Walton struggles to finish in traffic at the rim and Irvin tends to love him some inefficient long twos, so if Iowa can keep them from shooting too many threes, that would go a long way toward winning this game.
Mike Gesell will have the duty of guarding Walton Jr. in man-to-man, while Peter Jok will likely play on Irvin quite a bit. Jok is good at jumping passing lanes and gambling, but he worries me a bit when it comes to keeping Zak Irvin in front of him. Irvin has a nice combination of strength and quickness that he could prove a tough guard for Jok.
After the juniors, Michigan has a ton of younger role players that can make it rain from deep. Most importantly, Jarrod Uthoff will be mostly responsible for the 6'8" Duncan Robinson, whose main value comes from the fact that he can hit threes in transition or in the half-court by running off screens. Uthoff was able to help hold him to 11 points on 2-8 shooting last time, so hopefully that continues tonight.
Anthony Clemmons will be responsible for keeping Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (MAAR) out of the lane, and making sure he doesn't get a ton of open looks from long range. Meanwhile, Adam Woodbury will be the guy hedging hard on the above-mentioned ball screens because a good chunk of those are going to be set by Michigan's center, Mark Donnal. Woodbury's hedging and recovery will be important, but so will Iowa's help defense. The Hawkeyes will look to help Woodbury by rotating and taking away the roll to the basket, but Woodbury will need to recover quickly, as Iowa's help defense taking away the roll man could leave them vulnerable on the perimeter. In those instances where Woodbury doesn't recover quickly, I would almost prefer Iowa's defense just give up the layup, as opposed to giving this Michigan team a wide open attempt at a three.
What Kenpom Thinks
Kenpom Rankings: Iowa #19, Michigan #49
Projected Outcome: Iowa 76 (52%), Michigan 75 (48%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.13, Michigan 1.12
Projected Possessions: 67
Kenpom and Vegas again have Iowa favored, and I'm not really sure why. I think Iowa can win this game, but Iowa's offense will most likely need to outshoot Michigan's in order to do so. And that makes me nervous.