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Previewing Iowa vs. Michigan

Which teams show up tonight?

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

The Iowa Hawkeyes (10-6, 2-3) return to the parquet court of Carver-Hawkeye Arena to face the Michigan Wolverines (9-6, 3-1) in their only scheduled meeting this season. The two split last year’s contests with each winning on the other’s hardwood. The Hawks are 2-3 against Michigan since Juwan Howard took over for the 2019-20 season.

As detailed in yesterday’s statistical profile, Michigan is even more up-and-down than Iowa with some wacky results. They’re 4-1 against Eastern Michigan, Ohio, Jackson State, Lipscomb, and Central Michigan but have an average margin of 5 points in those games. They played Virginia (home), Kentucky (in London), and North Carolina (Charlotte) close. Their best result is a blowout against Maryland which saw them launch 20 spots up KenPom and followed that up with a win against Penn State and loss to Michigan State. They rest at 52 in KenPom to Iowa’s 40 at the time of this writing.

Hunter Dickinson is the straw that stirs the drink with a usage rate of 28.3% overall. He’s shot 31.8% of Michigan’s shots while he’s been on the floor in conference play and figures to have a pretty sizeable advantage against the Hawkeyes down low.

It certainly remains to be seen how Iowa defends him but memory serves (and the stats bear out) that Iowa doubled him more often in their win at Iowa. He was able to go for 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists in that contest. When the Hawks played him more straight up, he found his own shot (9/12 from 2) but the passing lanes shut down and the team two-point percentage went from 64.3% in the first game thanks to the Clippers’ Moussa Diabate but were held to long stretches in the first half of the second where the Hawks built an insurmountable 17-point first half lead.

My opinion: they take from Juwan Howard and his lasseiz faire-at-times preparedness & urgency often seen in the NBA regarding the regular season. They’ll bring it when they need to, like the game last year where they entered with a 13-10 record coming off an 11-point loss to Ohio State but were dealt a bit of a schedule loss in Ann Arbor (third game in six days) and lacked urgency there.

They looked like they wanted to play zero more games throughout the Big Ten Tournament loss to Indiana and then go out and are the only Big Ten team to make the Sweet 16 the next weekend. That’s what happens when you’ve got dudes.

Can this Iowa team ... keep making shots?

It feels like the type of thing that if one talks about it, it ceases happening but that’s been the modus operandi of this team so far. In wins, they’re a blistering 38.8% from behind the arc versus 23.2% in losses. Further, the last two games is the only back-to-back stretch where Iowa has made 36% or more of their attempts from three. Last year featured a six-game stretch where Iowa made that many of their three-pointers and Iowa went 5-1 during it.

Make or miss game.

Perhaps most important from Sunday’s matinee was the opening seven-ish where four of Iowa’s starters made a three. That’s found money right now from Ahron Ulis & Tony Perkins and if they are able to carry that through, it opens so much for Iowa’s offense. They’re Iowa’s best drivers and by being nominal threats from deep, it will allow more space for Filip Rebrača & Kris Murray to operate.

The flipside...Michigan’s three point defense has been the second best in conference play (29.9%) and 31.7% for the season writ large. With Jett Howard & Terrance Williams as the guys who figure to guard Murray and Connor McCaffery (and Payton Sandfort), their length could give those three fits.

Can Rebrača continue being the lone big man?

It was an easier job for the Serbian big man last year with the safety net of a Kris & Keegan frontcourt. So when he didn’t have it, Iowa could go to the twins as the four/five and play a potent five-out lineup with switchability on defense. I’ve always found 0 to be a good pick & roll defender but he enters most nights giving up height or beef and with DIckinson on deck, it’ll be both.

Last week, he went against two impressive bigs and more than held his own. He’s become a serious scoring threat as he catches opposing bigs off guard with his speedy spin move and his ringišpil. But the question against Dickinson is ... can he stay on the floor? He played just 41 minutes combined in the matchups last season and picked up 7 fouls.

The answer might be a dose of that medicine for Dickinson. Rebrača is drawing 5.2 fouls per 40 minutes which exceeds the mark he set his third season at North Dakota. It’s a tall task, though, as Dickinson is getting called for just 2.6 in 40 and has reached four fouls just twice (Ohio & North Carolina).

As it last concerns Rebrača, his ability to keep Dickinson under enough wraps as a scorer allows Fran McCaffery to be much more selective in how he chooses to defend the Wolverines. Too many doubles in man-to-man will allow Dickinson to be at his best as a facilitator on cuts to the basket. Iowa’s zone was cooking against Rutgers, though, and Michigan shares some of those stylings (though not as BAD as Rutgers shooters). Only Jett Howard (and bench player Joey Baker) is a consistent threat from outside so the Hawks will have to be cognizant of those two when they’re on the floor which should allow Fran to mix defenses enough to keep Michigan at bay.

Whether it’s enough is to be seen. With these two facing off, just about any result seems possible.