Coming off back-to-back Big Ten wins, the Hawkeyes had their hands full in a rematch against #19 Michigan, who took down the Hawkeyes 103-92 in Ann Arbor back in December. It was a back and forth game full of streaks and runs, but ultimately the Hawkeyes came away with another home win over a ranked opponent as they took down the Wolverines 90-83.
It was a wall to wall thriller that at times felt like it could be a runaway win for either team with one or two more baskets. Those baskets were instead made by the other team and runs heading in one direction were flipped on their head. At the end of the day, the Hawkeyes wore down Michigan and Iowa fans were able to breath again.
So what did we learn?
Luka Garza is the Big Ten Player of the Year
When Luka Garza went off for 44 points in Ann Arbor, it was easy to write it off as a great night where his team focused on getting him the ball. Now, more than a month later, it’s clear that was just a glimpse into the potential of this incredibly talented junior.
Garza dropped a cool 33 and 7 on Friday night, going 2-3 from beyond the arc and hitting 11-13 free throws. Michigan tried to keep him off balance by doubling some possessions but not others. It was effective early when Iowa’s shooters weren’t hitting, but Garza is too skilled a passer and Iowa’s guards too good of shooters for it to work long term. The double teams ultimately led to wide open looks for CJ Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp. When the double didn’t come, Garza scored on anyone Michigan three at him.
He did it from all over the floor with mid-range jumpers off the reverse pivot, classic back-to-basket work, pick-and-pop threes, and of course free throws. Garza shot more free throws than the entire Michigan team, leaving three post defenders with 4 fouls each and Brandon Johns Jr. fouled out. It could have been substantially more foul trouble if all the post contact was called, but Luka continue to take a beating and come back stronger.
It’s hard to imagine anyone in the Big Ten playing better and he’s a serious contender for the Naismith Award for the best player in the nation.
Perimeter Defense is Streaky
Garza and fellow bigs Ryan Kriener and Cordell Pemsl played solid defense in the post. They gave up a pair of Jon Teske threes and were beat off the dribble on switches outside, but it was tough sledding for the most part when matched up on the block. On the perimeter, however, there were only flashes of solid defending.
For large stretches, Zavier Simpson had his way with Iowa’s guards. Joe Toussaint did a good job in his limited minutes on Simpson, but was often screened off Simpson and slower guards were easily blown by. While Simpson only finished with 7 points on the night, he was able to get into the lane at will and the collapsing defense led to his 6 assists.
Complicating matters were some slow and downright poor rotations. Michigan shot 50% from the floor and just 32% from three. Had that been better, the result may have been different. The Hawkeyes gave up a number of wide open looks from the top of the key and the free throw line extended. That led to a career night for Eli Brooks, who finished with a career-high 25 points on 5-11 shooting from deep. While the Hawkeyes really tightened things up when it mattered most, Brooks was left all alone far too often. That’s something to keep an eye on as the Hawkeyes look to continue to rise the Big Ten ranks.
Turnovers Will Be Costly
The Hawkeyes shot the ball well on Friday and that hid some otherwise costly mistakes. Michigan came away with 8 steals (to Iowa’s 2) on the night, and that number could have easily been in the double digits.
There was a concerted effort to enter the ball into the post, but at times those entry passes were downright sloppy. The Wolverines did a good job fighting Garza and Kriener for position on the block and Teske showed good hands, but Iowa’s guards continued to make the same bounce passes through traffic time and again. That led to a handful of turnovers and many more instances where Garza was left out of position or fighting for a loose ball.
Worse yet we’re some of the really untimely turnovers in the first half. Following an 18-2 run, the Hawkeyes has a chance to slam the door on Michigan and coast through the second half. Instead, there were a number of ill-advised passes, miscommunications and sloppy play on breaks that allowed the Wolverines to hang around.
The 15 turnovers Iowa ended with isn’t a horrendous number, but it was nearly double the 8 from Michigan. Iowa should be striving to stay in single digits each game and with the talent they have in the backcourt, that’s an easily achievable goal.
CJ Fredrick is a Difference-Maker
After a pair of losses with RS freshman guard out with that stress reaction injury, Iowa has now won three straight Big Ten games, including one of just six road wins in the conference all season and a pair of home wins over top-20 opponents. It’s become abundantly clear that CJ Fredrick is a real difference-maker for this team.
Fredrick is the team’s best shooter with Jordan Bohannon out for the season. He’s shooting 49% from three on the season to lead the Big Ten. On Friday, he went 3-4 from deep en route to 21 points. When he’s on the floor, defenses have another weapon they have to account for and when he’s left open it’s a sure thing.
But he’s so much more than just a great shooter. Fredrick puts the ball on the deck well and got Michigan’s Simpson into early foul trouble with his dribble penetration, leading to a 10-minute stretch without the Big Ten’s leading assist man. And on the other end of the floor, he’s an excellent defender on opposing guards with his combination of length and quickness.
Perhaps his greatest trait, though, is the ice water in his veins. Seemingly whenever Iowa has needed someone to hit a big shot this season, to stop a run by an opponent or end a dry spell or close out a game, Fredrick has stepped up to the occasion. No shot is too big and they’re all going in. As incredible as it may seem, he’s approaching Bohannon status in just his freshman year.
Another big test and another big opportunity awaits the Hawkeyes next Wednesday as they host a rising Rutgers team that’s currently second in the Big Ten standings. Look for Luka Garza to go off and CJ Fredrick to hit some big shots. Oh, and “Just Joe” Wieskamp will surely have another quiet 20+ point night without batting an eye.
This team is working on something special.