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PREVIEW: Hawkeyes (22-10, 10-10) vs. Michigan (26-5, 15-5)

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Can the Hawkeyes keep it going?

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Well that was fun. After the thorough dismantling of Illinois to end their season, the Iowa Hawkeyes (22-10, 10-10) return to the United Center to face the Michigan Wolverines (26-5, 15-5). Earlier this season, Iowa handed them their largest defeat of the 2019, 74-59.

Since then, Michigan has had a pattern of “2 wins, 1 loss” which would not bode well for Iowa tonight as their last game was a loss to Michigan State. In fact, if that held, it could mean a third loss to Michigan State for John Beilein’s group in the championship game.

Michigan finished third in the Big Ten behind stout defense and an improving offense. In their last nine conference games, they exceeded 1 point/possession in eight games; they reached that threshold in just five of the previous nine games. Their defense has shown some signs of cracking of late, as they’ve had their three least efficient defensive outings in the back half of the conference schedule. Michigan State twice, and Penn State posted the strongest outings of Michigan opponents, each over 1.1 PPP.

Ignas Brazdeikis has led the way for the Wolverines offensively, with 15.0 points per game. In the first matchup, he scored Michigan’s first 9 points over five and a half minutes but had just 7 points the rest of the way. Zavier Simpson averaged 9.1 points and 6.1 assists per game and will be a load for Iowa. They did a great job in their first matchup to force him into a jump shooter and keep him from penetrating to the right - which silenced his baby hook - as he finished with just 10 points but missed all five of his attempts from three.

Charles Matthews should return to their lineup after missing the prior three games. He averages 12.8 points a game but gets most of his from two: he’s twice made three or more threes this season. Jordan Poole might catch fire and he averages 13.0 points a game. He is shooting just 32.7% from deep in conference.

Rekindle the magic

Iowa nearly matched their offensive efficiency against Illinois with their second (and now third) most efficient performances coming against the Illini. Iowa’s second best defensive performance was against Michigan, where they averaged just .82 points/possession. If Iowa is able to post their third best defensive game (tall task!), it will enable them to find the conference semifinals for the first time since God knows when 2006.

The man of the match against Michigan was Joe Wieskamp, who had a career high five steals against them. More of that!

Now, if Iowa comes out with the same gameplan (limit drives, allow threes) they did against Michigan early in the season, a hot performance by Matthews or Simpson could turn it on its head. It’s a “make or miss” conference!

Keep playing contained

Perhaps the wildest stat from last night is it was Iowa’s slowest played game of the season at just 61 possessions, according to KenPom. The Hawks were incredibly comfortable probing the defense, flipping sides, and finding the open man. The 25 assists Iowa had last night were the third most all season (sup Savannah State and Illinois) and the second highest assist percentage (assists/made baskets) at 80.6% (sup Illinois).

Unfortunately Iowa can’t play Illinois again this season but Michigan will do everything they can to turn Iowa into an isolation team. They allow an assist on just 43.8% of opponent makes, which is the 18th lowest percentage in the nation according to KenPom ($).

On defense, Iowa played fundamentally sound last night: hustled back, boxed out, and finished possessions. They regularly forced Illinois into end of shot clock situations, which is a good prep for Michigan who had the third longest offensive possessions in conference seasons.

Assert down low

Iowa’s frontline rotation of Cook, Garza, and Ryan Kriener combined for 41 points against Michigan in their first matchup. They forced Beilein deep into his bench, as Brandon Johns was forced into 10 minutes of action with Jon Teske in foul trouble. Iowa got to the line regularly and that has been Michigan’s Achilles heel: in their four most recent losses, their opponent has been able to shoot a ton of free throws.

Go Hawks! Let’s get to Saturday.