Iowa lost both regular season matchups, 75-68 at home and 74-59 on the road.* The silver lining is those were two bottom-third offensive performances for Iowa, in terms of points per possession. Iowa can easily surpass the totals they’ve put up in the two outings. Thing is: Michigan’s defense is good.
* Interesting stats, to me, at least: the last time Iowa faced an opponent three times, they lost to Northwestern after two regular season wins in 2014 (they beat the Wildcats thrice in 2013). Michigan last beat an opponent three times in 2010 against the Hawkeyes.
It’s been John Beilein’s best unit on the defensive end, per KenPom, since his Final Four team and ranks the highest of any he’s had since starting at Michigan. They do it primarily by limiting opponents’ second opportunities, as their 76.1% defensive rebounding rate translates to 7.9 opponent offensive rebounds (7.6 in conference play). They succeed in this area despite playing more perimeter-oriented power forwards.
Despite being one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, they don’t play the rough and tumble style Iowa faced yesterday against Illinois. They don’t foul and run teams off the three-point line well - as a share of total attempts, Michigan opponents have the least amount of threes.
One of those aforementioned forwards is conference Sixth Man of the Year Duncan Robinson (who started over half of Michigan’s games, including six in conference). He torched Iowa the last time out for 18 points on 6/9 shooting. Mo Wagner has had two relatively quiet outings against the Hawks as they have easily matched his size.
The Wolverines also haven’t needed to go to him in the two blowouts. They’ve been buoyed by impressive guard play in both encounters. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Charles Matthews, and Zavier Simpson will get the bulk of the minutes and each is a threat on and off the ball.
For Iowa to win, they’ll need to:
Match guard play: Isaiah Moss and Maishe Dailey were both hampered with foul trouble yesterday but I can’t imagine the game turning out similarly given both teams’ styles. Can the two provide enough offense while being acceptable defensively? Can Jordan Bohannon continue his torrid pace set the last two games?
Nicholas Baer, Jack Nunge, and Ahmad Wagner (if he’s healthy) also factor into here. All three are going to face quickness deficits while facing the smaller wings Beilein will throw out. Will Fran McCaffery ever match what he’s seeing out of Michigan? Brady Ellingson posted an 8-trillion yesterday, will he be more effective this afternoon? Does he need to be?
Hit the boards: Though Michigan’s defense is impressive, they have a soft underbelly with Duncan Robinson and Mo Wagner manning the front court. Can Iowa force the issue and get one (or both) in foul trouble? Would that even matter if Michigan decides to take it even smaller? Irrespective, Iowa’s got the size advantage and needs to use it with Luka Garza and Tyler Cook.
This, of course, means they’ll be in a position defensively where they’re chasing around quicker guys, as well. Robinson, and Isaiah Livers before him, can fill it up from deep at the 4. Iowa can’t continue to let opponents find their rhythm, especially from three. When they play zone, they’ll need to be incredibly active and find a man to box out. Though Michigan doesn’t typically focus on offensive rebounds, it’s a lever they can pull if necessary.
Ride the wave: As long as Iowa’s playing, they still have a chance. Michigan knows as well as anyone what can happen if you get hot at the right time. Though the Hawks’ circumstances are much different than their opponents’ this time last year, they still have a ticket to ride.
Let’s keep it going in Madison Square Garden.