As we continue the long and winding road towards the end of the season, the Iowa Hawkeyes (12-15, 3-11) have two more away games. Next up: the Michigan Wolverines (20-7, 9-5).
The Wolverines have had a strong conference season at home, where they are 6-1. Their lone loss inside the friendly confines of the
Breslin Center Crisler Center was to Purdue by a single point. In other words, Iowa has their work cut out for them. Again.
On the whole, Michigan will challenge Iowa offensively and defensively. In their January meeting, they did as many Iowa opponents did and built a huge first half lead. It crested at 18 points (18!!!) before going nearly 6 minutes without another bucket. They built another 17-point lead in the second half before letting the game finish on a Hawkeye 14-4 run. It was a blowout in every sense except the score.
A trio of Michigan guards torched the Hawkeyes that day as Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Charles Matthews, and Zavier Simpson combined for 44 points, 17 rebounds, and 13 assists. On the season, they average 11.5, 13.9, and 6.7 points, respectively. Since Simpson’s outburst, he’s started every game for the Wolverines alongside Rahkman, Matthews, and Moritz Wagner. Noted Iowa killer Isaiah Livers also started eight games before an ankle injury took him down against Northwestern - Michigan’s only “HUH?” loss.
Michigan will almost always go with a four-out lineup with Wagner “inside.” Iowa was able to contain him pretty well but he also wasn’t really needed against the Hawkeyes. He is the Wolverines leading scorer at 14.6 per game and leading shooter: he makes 62.7% of his two-point baskets and 40.2% of his threes.
Despite the girth inside like Iowa’s last couple of opponents, Michigan is an improved defensive team and one of the best in John Beilein’s tenure. They are a tremendous rebounding team and allow limited second possessions by way of offensive rebounds. Additionally, their three point defense runs opponents off the line at an impressive rate. Michigan allows about 3 three-point attempts per 10 total shots, which ranks 10th in the nation. When opponents shoot threes, however, they go in 36.3% of the time.
So what are three things Iowa needs to do to come out with a victory?
Three-point defense: Michigan is not as good as they’ve been in the past from deep but that didn’t stop them from raining them down against Iowa earlier this year. Livers, particularly, was fire from the corner, as he made all three of his attempts from deep. It’s a soft spot in Iowa’s zone throughout Fran McCaffery’s tenure so it’s unlikely to get fixed overnight. However, they can play with requisite energy and make those shots more difficult instead of simulating a practice gym environment.
Worst case, Iowa should just cross its fingers and hope those shots don’t fall tonight.
Tertiary scoring options: Tyler Cook and Jordan Bohannon have been impressive in conference play. They’ve averaged 32 points combined against conference opponents (up 3 points overall). There is not much more you can ask for from these two offensively.
It’s those below them on the scoring totem pole which have been inconsistent at best and underwhelming at worst, save Luka Garza. His line of 10 points and 5 rebounds per game is matched by only two Hawkeye freshmen since 1992-93: Melsahn Basabe and Jess Settles.
There is only so much Garza can add to the mix with Cook chewing the paint, though. Is there anyone else who can get to 10 points a night with consistency? Isaiah Moss should be that guy, but he’s incredibly feast or famine: he’s scored 7 or less points in eight conference games. Though Iowa’s offense has been high powered, it’s unsustainably so when there’s limited backcourt help for the point guard. Just ask Trae Young.
Cordell Pemsl has regained his shooting percentage in conference play but he’s not nearly the volume scorer he was last year. Nicholas Baer has fallen off a cliff without Peter Jok by his side. Jack Nunge seems to be turning the corner but progress is not linear, especially for freshman.
Gameplan Adherence: After Iowa’s first meeting with the Wolverines this year, it came out the team was quick to shelf what Fran McCaffery had installed as a game plan. Fran’s been pretty good against Beilein, as Iowa had a five game winning streak against Michigan before this year’s loss.
If they’re able to do what they need to do, they can certainly score with Michigan - they can score with nearly everyone! But they can’t succumb to the same issues they have time and again this season.
Although expecting them to play differently is probably insanity, Iowa’s ceiling offensively remains incredibly high. If their defensive floor can rise, they can get the W.