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Previewing the Hawkeyes against Michigan

If the Hawkeyes can win, they position themselves well for the next week

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes (17-7, 7-6) begin an important three game stretch tonight against the Michigan Wolverines (13-10, 7-6). Considering both sit in a tie for 7th, the ability to cement themselves in the top half of the conference (barely) would allow the Hawkeyes to continue the momentum they developed against three basement teams. A loss would signal those prior three results were largely fools gold.

The Wolverines, have severely underperformed expectations, as The Gazette’s Mike Hlas pointed out. Yeah, this group was projected to win the conference (tied with Purdue) on the back of the conference’s best recruiting class and Hunter Dickinson’s return. Heck, KenPom ($) had them second in his preseason projections.

The results have been spotty but looking at their non-conference schedule, I have to say I’m not sure how many wins I would expect Iowa to have with it - Seton Hall at home, neutral site against Arizona, then North Carolina & Central Florida on the road. That’s trial by fire for one of the younger teams in the conference.

Perhaps the most discouraging thing for Michigan fans is how little resistance they put up in their losses. Seven of their 10 have come by double digits, including the UCF defeat and a WTF performance at the Barn against Minnesota. Their best win is, by far, a 24-point shellacking of Purdue. The Bracket Matrix has them in 49 of the 115 brackets they poll and on the outside looking in. A win against Iowa would probably do more for them than an Iowa win against Michigan.

Projected Starters:

G: DeVante’ Jones (Grad, 6’1”, 200 lbs) - 9.2 PPG, 4.3 APG, 4.6 RPG, 45% FG%, 35% 3P%, 28.3 MPG
G: Eli Brooks (Grad, 6’1”, 185 lbs) - 12.3 PPG, 3.0 APG, 3.6 RPG, 41% 3P%, 34.8 MPG
G/F: Caleb Houstan (Fr, 6’8”, 205 lbs) - 10.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 41% FG%, 36% 3P%, 31.5 MPG
F: Moussa Diabate (Fr, 6’11”, 210 lbs) - 8.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.4 ORPG, 59% 2P%, 23.6 MPG
C: Hunter Dickinson (So, 7’1”, 260 lbs) - 18.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.5 ORPG, 57% FG%, 39% 3P%, 31.5 MPG

(stats via sports-reference)

All due respect to Michigan’s Jordan Bohannon (aka Eli Brooks) but he probably shouldn’t be the #2 scorer on this roster. The 12.3 PPG is a tick above his previous career high, though, and he has bitten Iowa in the past. He scored 25 points, still a career high, in a loss at Carver during the 2019-20 season.

Rudeness aside, two things stick out - Dickinson, and SIZE. In some ways, they resemble an even bigger version of Iowa with three guys 6’8” or taller along the front line. The difference is Diabate and Dickinson are huge with respect to Keegan Murray and Filip Rebraca. Dickinson scored just 14 points against the Hawks last season, but got the better of Luka Garza in that game (16 points on 19 shots).

Dickinson has only gotten better, folding a three point shot into his game, and remains a force on both sides of the floor. Diabate looks the part and will be Keegan’s toughest test in staying out of 2-foul jail since breaking out over the last couple games. Houstan can also give the Hawks fits, as he’s found his shot a bit in Big Ten play, making 40% of his three point attempts.

Three questions

Which Michigan do we get?

As described above, they’re really hit or miss. When they’re good, they’re great, but those performances are so few and far between that it’s easy to explain them away as anomalies.

Their recruiting stars dictate them as a high ceiling team and they have shown that at times. They’re middle-of-the-pack, shooting 35% from deep collectively, but have five outings above 45% - all wins. They’re also adept at turning opponents into isolation ballclubs - just 41.6% of opponents’ made baskets come assisted. That’s a top 25 ratio in college basketball and speaks to the athleticism they can throw out on that side of the court.

Perhaps most importantly, they’re the more desperate team tonight. They need this win. Iowa simply really, really wants this win.

Can Jordan Bohannon carry over his shooting?

Iowa’s offense has undoubtedly been better since his shift back to point guard but those performances have come against the bottom three teams in the conference record-wise. They’re also the three worst, points/possession-wise, in conference play. The fourth worst? Michigan.

While Bohannon’s success against Michigan pales against the success he’s seen against Maryland or Nebraska, he’s reached double digits in four of his eight career matchups against the Wolverines. It’s come at a right around his career average, too (13/32), though his best performances came earliest in his career.

A strong showing would continue to show the move back to point was the correct one for team success.

Will Keegan Murray play like the best player on the court?

In many games, Murray is the best offensive player and best defensive player when he steps on the court. He certainly looked the part in each of his last two outings where he scored 30+ points. Against Maryland, he seemed to be developing a “look” where he knew he could not be stopped.

Yet the height and length Michigan can throw at Murray is unique, in Diabate, and could give him fits. The Michigan forward, however, isn’t a stat accumulator on that end of the floor, with just 0.7 blocks and 0.4 steals per game. Keegan will need his full arsenal to continue his successful stretch and paired with Bohannon’s reemergence, is a formidable 1-2 punch.

The Hawkeyes win against Nebraska put them above .500 in conference play for the first time all season. Another fourth straight win would set put them in strong position the rest of the way in the conference race and continue the momentum we’ve seen the last couple weeks.