After getting our wires crossed with Maize and Brew for Q&A preceding the first matchup between the Iowa Hawkeyes (12-15, 3-11) and Michigan Wolverines (20-7, 9-5), I wanted to keep it in house, so to speak. My brother goes to Michigan so who better to answer some questions about the Hawkeyes’ next opponent? Apparently lots of people. My brother, a born and bred Iowegian, is afflicted with the same Hawkeye fandom as yours truly, despite attending another Big Ten university. So, instead of having JPinIC pretend to be a Michigan fan, we asked one of my brother’s roommates, Aidan, to fill in.
1) Michigan is led in scoring by Mo Wagner. How has his junior year been after his flirtation with the NBA? Do Michigan fans expect him back next year?
Wagner leads the team in scoring and rebounding, and overall he has probably been our best player. He is still not perfect and has occasional lapses, but he has taken steps to become a much more complete player on offense and defense. His three-point shooting and mobility have caused problems for a lot of teams this season, and he makes big plays and gives the team a lot of energy (his impressive scores driving to the basket against Indiana and MSU are great examples).
After getting an opinion from the NBA Advisory Committee last year and his overall good but not dominant play this year, I would say most Michigan fans expect this to be his last year. With that said, it seems like he really loves playing for and being at Michigan, so I wouldn’t be completely shocked if he decides to come back for a final year
2) Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s turnover rate is among the lowest in the country, as is Michigan’s. What has his steadying presence meant to this offense?
John Beilein’s teams have always been known for not fouling and not turning the ball over, so this is nothing new. Most of Michigan’s players are decent ball handlers, but MAAR’s development as almost a second point guard over the past couple seasons is really paying dividends now. For one thing, he’s someone you want to have the ball as much as possible because he’s great driving to the hoop, which he’s been doing more aggressively this season, and he’s a clutch free-throw shooter, both of which are things Simpson struggles with. Also, with the back up point guard play from Simmons and Brooks being a bit suspect this year, moving Rahkman to the one spot when Simpson is on the bench has given Beilein the chance to give more minutes to dynamic if erratic freshman guard Jordan Poole.
3) KenPom has rated this Wolverines squad as the highest ranked defense of John Beilein’s tenure. What have they done so well on that side of the floor?
Looking through the stats, it’s hard to say what exactly it is that is giving Michigan one of the better defenses in the Big 10. Beilein’s teams have never seemed particularly committed to defense or rebounding, although he has made it a point to focus more on 1v1 defending in the last couple years. Aside from defending well in transition this year, the biggest thing I would say is just doing a better job of contesting shots and forcing opposition offenses into tougher positions. Simpson and Rahkman are having good defensive seasons, and the added athleticism of Charles Matthews and Isaiah Livers and the size of Jon Teske off the bench can’t have hurt.
4) Against the Hawkeyes, Isaiah Livers and Zavier Simpson had huge games off the bench. Since then both have moved into the starting lineup, though Livers twisted an ankle two games ago. What have their impacts been since the game against Iowa?
In particular I would say Simpson’s addition to the starting lineup has been really important. His size makes it difficult for him to drive and score, but he’s a great distributor of the ball and almost never turns it over. His shooting (especially his free-throw shooting) has not really been a strong point, but he adds a lot on defense and forces turnovers. Livers hasn’t been able to recreate the performances that got him into the starting line up, but he adds athleticism and is probably a better defender than Duncan Robinson. He didn’t play vs. Wisconsin and Duncan Robinson re-found his shooting touch and scored 16, so we’ll see how much Livers ends up playing.
5) Lastly, who ya got?
Between Iowa’s struggles this year and Michigan’s new-found ability to get it done towards the end of games (at least some of the time), I’m going to back Michigan for the win. This Michigan team can sometimes struggle to get going especially coming off previous wins, so I wouldn’t rule out a close game.
Thanks for filling in Aidan. We hope your team loses by a million.