Iowa continues to be the hottest team in the league, capping a 7-1 February with an easy 82-61 win over Northwestern Monday night. Iowa’s 7-1 February is their best record in that month since they ran the table in February…of 1981. You can politely take the February Fade narrative, which was debunked at this point anyway, and cram it.
Of course, Iowa’s lone loss last month was to the Wolverines, an 84-79 loss on February 17 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Michigan got a career night from Moussa Diabate, scoring 28 points while snaring 8 rebounds. Iowa committed 11 turnovers, which isn’t a terrible number, but most of those turnovers were at the worst possible moment and Michigan scored 18 points off those turnovers. Iowa also shot poorly from the floor and the foul line, making just 44 percent of their shots and 13-20 foul shots. Clearly, this long, athletic Michigan team bothered Iowa around the rim, where Iowa missed numerous lay-ups and dunks. The Hawks got back in the game late due to some poor rebounding and transition defense by Michigan, but it wasn’t enough as the Wolverines got a much-needed win for their NCAA resume.
Of course, the first game was a line of demarcation for both clubs. 48 hours later, Iowa walked out of Columbus with an uber-impressive 75-62 win over Ohio State, giving Iowa a signature win they desperately needed themselves, and they’ve since gone on a 4-game winning streak, winning all four by double-digits. 24 hours after the Iowa-Ohio State game, Michigan played at Wisconsin and, well, you know what happened. Juwan Howard had his second dust-up with a Big Ten coach in a little over a year. Slaps/punches were thrown. People were suspended. It was an ugly episode for the league.
Michigan will be without Howard for the rest of the regular season, though Diabate and Terrance Williams II are back from their one-game timeouts. This might work to Michigan’s advantage - Howard hasn’t covered himself in glory given the talent at his disposal (it turns out replacing seniors/grad transfers that all fit well together with true freshmen is pretty hard). Stepping into the role as head coach is Phil Martelli, the former St. Joseph’s head coach. He led St. Joe’s for 24 seasons, made 7 NCAA appearances, and had them as the top-ranked team in the nation for a week in 2004. That team, led by Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, came within 2 points of a Final Four spot, losing to Oklahoma State in the Elite Eight. He’s a steady hand and should bring some calm to the bench. They need it, as Michigan is in the middle of a grueling stretch of four games in seven days to make up for some postponed games earlier in the season. They already dropped the first game of this stretch, losing to Illinois, but bounced back to pummel Michigan State Tuesday night.
C – Hunter Dickinson (So., 7-1, 255) 18.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 55.8 FG%, 32.1 3P%
F – Moussa Diabate (Fr., 6-11, 210) 9.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 57.4 FG%
F – Caleb Houstan (Fr., 6-8, 205) 10.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 apg 41.1 FG%, 37.5 3P%
G – Eli Brooks (Sr., 6-1, 185) 11.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.9 apg 44.1 FG%, 38.8 3P%
G – DeVante Jones (Sr., 6-1, 200) 10.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.5 apg 45.2 FG%, 32.8 3P%
That’s a big front line for the Wolverines. I noted after the second Minnesota game that I loved the Keegan-Kris-Patrick front court and how long it is. This Michigan line is that front court, only bigger and just as long. We saw how they frustrated Iowa in the first game with length and athleticism, altering numerous shots around the rim. Iowa doesn’t have much of an answer for Dickinson – he had 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists in the first game – though Filip Rebraca battled admirably and had 12 points and 6 rebounds of his own against that big line. Iowa had no answer for Diabate, however – his previous high was 15 points twice, against Purdue and at Rutgers. And in the Bench Player That Gave Iowa Fits category, Kobe Bufkin scored 10 points in the first meeting. It was a point short of his career high, set against Southern Utah earlier this season.
Two Questions and Seeding Discussion
What are we going to get from Michigan?
Boiler noted it before the first game, and I’ll ask it again - what the hell are we going to get from Michigan? Like much of the Big Ten, Michigan has been way up and down this year. Their ceiling can be really high, but with a young roster the floor can also be low enough to potentially miss the tournament. Since the brawl in Madison they are scratching and clawing for their NCAA lives - they beat Rutgers comfortably without Diabate or Williams then lost to Illinois while giving up 93 points. They then hammered Michigan State Tuesday night, with Dickinson going for a career-high 33 points. Shoulder shrug. I just hope Dickinson got it out of his system Tuesday.
They’re going to be desperate, just as they were in Iowa City, and the game means something from a Big Ten Tournament seeing perspective - more on that shortly. They’re still in the tournament on most brackets projections, with some having them as high as the 8/9 game, but they still have work to do. Expect their best shot, though keep an eye on their legs since this will be their third game in five days.
Patrick McCaffery’s health - is he ok?
Patrick McCaffery was declared out for the Northwestern game with hip soreness and listed as day-to-day. It doesn’t appear serious but he’s still day-to-day and he may not play against the Wolverines in an effort to get him to 100 percent for tournament play. He had 13 points and 5 rebounds in the first game with the Wolverines, so a healthy Patrick would be a plus. This is now an all-hands situation for seeing. Which...
Tuesday was a wild night in Big Ten play. It started with...Nebraska? Yes, it starts with Nebraska. The Huskers have played slightly better in the last week. They hung with Iowa in Lincoln, then went on the road and clobbered Penn State by 23. Then the cherry on top - a team that figured to be cannon fodder the last week of the year goes to Columbus and wins, 78-70. That loss dropped Ohio State into a tie for 4th with Iowa, which puts Iowa into the double-bye spot due to the head-to-head win over the Buckeyes.
While that game neared it’s finish, Michigan-Michigan State started and the Wolverines jumped Michigan State almost right away, winning by 17. With those results in the books, there are now five teams within a game of one another for the last double-bye spot - Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan State, Rutgers, and Michigan. Woah. Here are the remaining schedules, plus a results generator that you can play with here:
Iowa (11-7) - 3/3 at Michigan, 3/6 at Illinois
Ohio State (11-7) - 3/3 Michigan State, 3/6 Michigan
Michigan State (10-8) - 3/3 at Ohio State, 3/6 Maryland
Rutgers (10-8) - 3/2 at Indiana, 3/6 Penn State
Michigan (10-8) - 3/3 Iowa, 3/6 at Ohio State
Iowa has the toughest route, because of course they do. Rutgers might have the easiest route, though Indiana needs wins to keep their own tournament hopes alive and it’s in Bloomington (Indiana is right behind this group, at 9-9; they close at Purdue).
[Editor’s note: Rutgers came back from down 10 to defeat Indiana in Bloomington, likely bumping the Hoosiers to the wrong side of the bubble. That also means Iowa needs to win out to secure the 4th seed OR have Rutgers fall to Penn State in their finale.]
Ohio State’s form is as up and down as Michigan State and Michigan - lose at home to Iowa, win over Indiana, win at Illinois (!!), lose at Maryland (?), and lose to Nebraska (??). What the hell? Ohio State should be sitting pretty in 4th, but the Maryland and Nebraska loses are crazy and makes this a conversation now. Michigan State and Michigan can still get to the 4-seed. It’s madness! Thursday will be moving day for the 4th spot, either way.
I’m going to pretend the last game of the night didn’t happen, though I must say...15-straight wins in games decided by 6 or less, plus a banked 3 from the wing to win the league (plus another banked, off-balance 3 a couple of possessions earlier. TWO BANK SHOTS FOR THE LAST 6 POINTS TO WIN THE LEAGUE). On the scale of Ridiculous Shots That You Can’t Believe Went In, that wasn’t quite Joe Wieskamp banked corner 3 to beat Rutgers, but the stakes were obviously bigger here. One of their players, by his own admission, said the last shot was “bullshit.” But of course it went in! They both went in!
At some point the deal with the devil comes due, right? RIGHT???