After a big win against Syracuse, the Iowa Hawkeyes (6-2, 0-0) head to Ann Arbor where they’ll face the #4 Michigan Wolverines (7-1, 0-0) in the first conference test of the 2019-20 season. The Hawks are 0-4 in the two seasons of early December conference games while Michigan is 3-1.
The Wolverines began the season unranked before taking the Battle 4 Atlantis by storm with convincing wins over Iowa State, North Carolina, and Gonzaga. They took their undefeated record to top-ranked Louisville and lost 58-43 in a plodding affair. Those four opponents (plus Creighton) have driven their strength of schedule to one of the 30 toughest in the country according to KenPom, though it’s fourth behind Oregon, Michigan State, and Kansas among Power 5 schools.
Unlike past previews of these Wolverines, this one won’t discuss the veritable John Beilein, as he’s moved on to coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are 5-15 at this juncture. In his stead is the second tallest 20% of the Fab 5, Juwan Howard. The Michigan alum has carried over much of the statistical profile of recent defenses, with a heavy emphasis on limiting three point attempts and fouls. Offensively, they’ve seen an uptick in three point shooting and, unfortunately for them, turnovers. With a team pace ranked 148th as of this writing, Howard has increased the tempo above Beilein’s low-tempo outfits.
- Isaiah Livers: In my admittedly limited (though not so limited) time watching Michigan this season, I have never been impressed, per se, by Livers. But, the kid has elevated into the primary scorer (15.3 PPG) nicely after losing three NBA-caliber players off of last year’s roster. He does most of his damage from deep, as a career 42% shooter. He is also capable inside the arc, though he does not get to the line like one would want to see out of a 6’7” wing with just 10 free throw attempts. Starting alongside Franz Wagner, they’ll pose an even bigger challenge to Iowa than Syracuse did with Elijah Hughes and Marek Dolezaj.
- Zavier Simpson: Yep, he’s still around. The 6’0” senior is almost a literal fireball as he’s shooting 62% inside the arc and 40% (a career high) behind it. He’s also assisting on nearly 50% of shots he doesn’t take while he’s on the floor. Despite scoring and assisting at career-high rates, he’s seen a couple bugaboos return: his propensity to turn it over and more reckless defense. He posted eight turnovers against ISU (though Tyrese Haliburton would have something to say about that) and has a career low steal percentage with some increase in fouls/40 minutes. But he’s a senior and if you’ve paid any attention to B1G basketball the last four years, you know what he’s capable of.
- David DeJulius: My best guess for the Zack Irvin Award aka “Random Wolverine Who Comes In And Totally Lights Up Iowa” Award - of which Isaiah Livers is already a recipient - is DeJulius. After playing aggressively sparingly last year, the sophomore has become a key cog of Howard’s bench, shooting 44% from three and averaging 8.1 points. Eli Brooks, a starter, is also a key contender for this. God help me if Brandon Johns finds his shot against Iowa.
- Who gets into foul trouble? Whether Iowa stands a chance against the Wolverines is likely going to be if it is Luka Garza or Jon Teske who gets into foul trouble. In the five games they’ve faced each other, the two have combined for 27 fouls. Iowa’s only win? The one where Teske fouled out, allowing Garza had free reign in the lane en route to 7/9 shooting from two in a 19-point performance. The rub is Teske was having his way as well, with 8 points and 8 boards, he just couldn’t stay on the floor long enough. With the game at Michigan, I’m not entirely optimistic this question will go Iowa’s way.
- What Bohannon does Iowa get? After Chad Leistikow’s report that he isn’t even practicing between games, it’s clear that Jordan Bohannon is far from 100% and likely to receive a medical redshirt if he hangs it up after only 10 games this season. Perhaps the starkest contrast on what Bohannon provides when he’s playing like he can is the second half of the Syracuse game where he sank three after three en route to the double-digit win. In the first half, however, he simply didn’t have it and the game was very much in doubt. For the Hawks to be in it tonight, they very much need “second half Syracuse” J-Bo, despite four long flights to/from Iowa City. Even if he can only play 10 games, he could be the difference on which side of the bubble Iowa rests.
- How does the rest of the backcourt shake out? With C.J. Fredrick and Cordell Pemsl out on Tuesday, Fran McCaffery leaned on Ryan Kriener to start against the Orange. That didn’t go quite as planned as they had the stretchiness at the four to make it unwieldy. Plus, Iowa just looked really freaking good with three guards and Joe Wieskamp on the floor. Fredrick is likely to give it a go tonight, which will allow Iowa to match the length and athleticism of Livers and Wagner. If Joe Toussaint and Bakari Evelyn can continue to find ways to excel in their roles, it could put Iowa over the top against their second ranked foe of the season.