Date: Feb 8th
Place: Carver Hawkeye Arena; Iowa City, IA
Iowa Hawkeyes (17-6, 6-4)
When Last We Met: Michigan, coming off a big upset win in Madison was already playing with house money going into game two of three in the first Stretch From Hell on the Big Ten schedule. Iowa at the time was 4-1 in the conference and looking to be one of the main challengers for the Big Ten title. The Hawkeyes looked to be in business early, but Michigan used the middle 20 minutes of the game to stake out a big lead that it was able to hold on to down the stretch.
Since Then? Things haven't been great for Iowa. Over the last five games (including that Michigan game) Iowa is 2-3 with two home losses and wins over two of the worst teams in the conference. The second loss came against Michigan State in overtime and the third came at the hands of Ohio State on Tuesday.
Iowa now sits solidly behind both Michigan and Michigan State in the conference race. With four losses, Iowa would need a lot of help to get back into contention for a share of the conference title (an outright title is a longshot). Both Michigan and Michigan State still have potential losses left on the schedule, but Iowa would need to even the series at 1-1 against both teams to even begin to think about having a shot. A win by Michigan Saturday shuts the door almost completely on Iowa's chances at a title and solidifies the Big Ten as a two horse race.
What Could Be Different This Time? First and foremost, Michigan needs to worry about the Iowa bench. Last time these two teams met, Iowa managed just eight bench points (four players had two points each), which was three less than Zak Irvin managed by himself. Iowa is a legitimate 10-player rotation team that has a talented second unit including Gabe Olaseni, Jared Uthoff, and Zach McCabe. The Hawkeyes should get more bench production this time around, and if one of those players gets a hot hand they can pour it in as much as any of Iowa's starters.
Thankfully, Michigan will have Derrick Walton back in the lineup after he missed the first matchup due to the flu. Walton has come on as of late and turned into a solid contributor for the Wolverines. He will also give Michigan an added bit of depth against an Iowa team that likes to run when it gets the chance.
Of course, if any team in the conference has the personnel to try and replicate Indiana's switiching perimeter defense, it would be Iowa, which could rely less on Adam Woodbury and more on some of the other more athletic forwards who could check GRIII and Jordan Morgan causing problems for Michigan's high ball screen offense.
What Should Be The Same? Matchup problems. Iowa presents them, and while they weren't exploited to the fullest in the first game, the return trip could be rough for the Wolverines. Melsahn Basabe was a big reason that Iowa had a strong open to the first game, and he is the kind of big-bodied forward that Glenn Robinson III has struggled to defend and rebound against in the paint.
Aaron White is also still there. He was limited in the first game as Iowa wasn't able to run like it wanted, but still, White was the whole reason Iowa made a late push, and it is unlikely that Fran McCaffery allows White to be a non-factor through the first half again. Same thing with Roy Marble, who had an off game against Michigan.
Of course, the reason Michigan was able to limit the efficiency of these two was that the Wolverines controlled the game thanks to two very important traits that Michigan excels at: limiting turnovers and shooting the ball. The four factors chart from the first game shows why Michigan was able to win:
Iowa is a team that relies on generating a lot of possessions and transition opportunities, and by Michigan soundly winning the turnover battle and shooting the ball so effectively, the Wolverines were able to keep Iowa from getting out and running. It is hard to push the ball in transition after made shots. Furthermore, Michigan kept the rebounding battle close and didn't let Iowa get a large amount of second chance opportunities, which is something Iowa can do.
Michigan handles defensive pressure well and doesn't give the ball up. Combine this with a high percentage of made shots and Iowa has to play a game its not comfortable in, one in which its half court offense has to keep up with Michigan's half court offense.
Keys For Michigan
- Offensive rebounding. Michigan can't allow Iowa to generate a lot of second chance baskets. Michigan's offense is such that when it is clicking it puts a lot of pressure on the other team to keep up in a back and fourth half-court battle. Giving the opponent extra chances to keep pace hurts Michigan's cause, and Iowa is one of the best teams in the country at hitting the offensive glass.
- Win in transition. In the first game Michigan was the better team in transition by picking its spots and finishing when it did push the tempo. If the Wolverines can use quick changes of pace to keep Iowa even more off guard, the Wolverines can not only keep a lead on Iowa, but use quick bursts like that to extend that lead.
- Find ways to dictate the offense. Against Indiana Michigan was reactive, allowing the Hoosiers to set the tone for the game and throw Michigan off its rhythm offensively. Iowa will look to do things to keep Michigan's offense — run through Stauskas and LeVert — from being effective. If Michigan adjusts to find good shots elsewhere it will win. If Michigan settles for a lot of long, contested two point jump shots forced by a defense that is selling out to take away Michigan's bread and butter, it will be a long afternoon.
Outlook: Road games in the Big Ten are never easy, but Michigan has the talent and game to beat the Hawkeyes at home and stay at the front of the conference race. It will once again come down to who dictates the style of play to whom. Michigan did so in the first game, turning it into a shooting contest that the Wolverines were able to win even after relinquishing a big lead. Iowa is going to look to speed things up, get more shots up and cause Michigan to make mistakes.
However, this Michigan team like those before it responds well to this kind of opposing game plan, and the Wolverines' ability to protect the ball and get good shots on offense means that as long as Michigan is hitting its shots, it is hard to rattle.
Iowa being at home could be the difference as it is hard to imagine the Hawkeyes' bench struggling as much as it did the first game, and that scoring boost could be enough to make the difference. Michigan has a chance to win here, but it is going to take one of the team's best games of the year to do it against an Iowa team that has its back up against the wall after dropping three of the last five games.