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Michigan Takes One On the Chin in Iowa City

Iowa 75

#13 Michigan 59

After emphatically beating Wisconsin on Sunday, it looked like Michigan just needed to survive Northwestern and Iowa to get to 5-1 in the Big Ten before facing a brutal six game stretch (Michigan State, @Arkansas, @Purdue, @Ohio State, Indiana, @Michigan State). Northwestern provided a much stiffer challenge than we thought they could and the Wolverines were lucky to come away with a win. Unfortunately that was not the case yesterday against Iowa as the Hawkeyes ran away with an easy home win against listless Michigan. It was Michigan's ugliest performance of the year; Iowa shot the ball, held onto the ball, rebounded and got to the line better than UM did. Despite shooting the ball poorly to start the game, Michigan stayed within a possession or two, but Iowa stretched the lead to 33-23 at halftime with Trey Burke on the bench. The Wolverines cut the deficit to six in the second half with a short run, and Iowa responded with a 7-0 run of their own (keyed by a questionable charge call on Zack Novak) to put the game out of reach.

I'll put it simply: it looked like Iowa was much better than Michigan. Between the total lack of production from the five position, ice cold shooting from the outside, and a bizarrely stagnant and anemic offense, Michigan has looked as bad as it's looked all year (this tied the Virginia game as Michigan's lowest points per possession output this year, but Virginia's defense is a top ten unit and Iowa's isn't even top-150). The defense wasn't much better: Iowa's PPP was the fifth-highest it's been all year and Matt Gatens, Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble victimized Michigan all day. It was almost worse on an individual level. Tim Hardaway Jr was 2-13 from the field and missed all eight of his three point attempts. Jordan Morgan played for 27 minutes but only had one or two touches in the post and only attempted one field goal all game. Evan Smotrycz finished with zero points in 22 minutes. Trey Burke scored 19 points, but scored eleven of them with less than four minutes in the game (when it was out of reach) and sat for most of the first half with two fouls. Novak was the only Wolverine to have a pretty solid day -- 14 points (4-8 from three) and 8 rebounds (2 offensive) -- but he can't carry the team.

Four Factors:

Michigan Iowa
Effective FG % 46.2 50.9
Turnover % 16.1 12.9
Off. Rebounding % 25.0 36.4
Free Throw Rate 32.7 51.9

Michigan was basically outplayed in every facet of this game by an inferior opponent. I don't really want to go much more in depth than this, but there's not that much more that can be said. Iowa was simply better than Michigan today. Moving on...

Why was Burke on the bench for most of the first half?!

Well, John Beilein definitely has not shied away from sitting a player for the duration of the half after he picks up two early fouls. Burke committed his second and was subsequently benched with 13:36 left in the half as Michigan trailed 10-6. He came back and finished with a statistically impressive 19 points, but most of his impact came when the outcome of the game had been decided. I don't know Beilein would bench a guy with 1.8 fouls per 40 minutes -- it wasn't probable that Burke would face serious foul trouble later in the game -- but I'm not sure that we can simply look at the stats and say that he shouldn't have done so. I understand that it was unlikely that Burke's foul trouble would be an issue and I'm still leaning towards siding with Beilein's conventional wisdom on this one. Having a player that's playing defense with foul trouble makes him a liability on that end -- he's much more tentative and plays with the fear of picking up fouls three and four -- and he's much less aggressive on offense as well. It's not a stretch to think that Iowa would take the ball at Trey for the rest of the half and force him to pick up more fouls, so preempting that and taking him out both 1.) prevents the mere possibility of him fouling out (however unlikely) and 2.) takes a player who's playing timidly and who's a liability on both ends. It didn't matter in the long run and Hardaway and Smotrycz's disappearing acts were much worse. Burke's thirteen minutes on the bench was not the reason why Michigan lost.

Michigan lost because they were looking ahead to Michigan State.

It's a clichéd statement by lazy analysts, but it's possible I guess. I don't know if this was a lack of motivation and I'm not going to play psychologist to try to draw dubious conclusions as to if it was or wasn't.

Michigan lost because this was their third game in a week and they're tired.

More likely, but it still doesn't explain why they lost the game this badly. Looking ahead to MSU might have a small factor, Michigan was tired out with three games (including a tough OT win) in seven days, it was a long trip out to Iowa City, and to Iowa's credit they played really well. Still, Michigan is much better than Iowa and this game should not have have transpired the way it did. Any way you try to rationalize a very poor performance like this -- motivation, tiredness, "it's a road game" -- and it doesn't matter. Michigan lost. There are still a few serious concerns that were painfully apparent in this game apart from those rationalizations.

  1. Michigan hasn't been able to shoot the ball lately. The Wolverines were fifteenth nationally entering the Iowa game, but they've been broke from the field, having their worst four games shooting the ball for the entire year (in eFG%, Northwestern was the worst, Wisconsin second, Iowa third, and Minnesota fourth worst). They were able to overcome it against Minnesota and Northwestern, but it's not sustainable to shoot so poorly and win against good teams.
  2. Evan Smotrycz has disappeared. After notching three double-doubles in a row against Alabama A&M, Bradley and Penn State, Smotrycz has done poorly. He's averaged only 3.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game over these past five games and he's only hit 3-17 behind the arc during that span. Smotrycz has run hot and cold for his entire career, but this stretch of poor play has really hurt. He'll snap out of it soon -- hopefully it's soon.
  3. Tim Hardaway has put up the numbers, but has been very inefficient. Hardaway's scored, 7, 19, 17, 19, and 9 in Michigan's last five, which is great taken on face value. Look a little deeper and you'll see that Tim has only shot 22-69 from the field during that span (just under 32%) and has had three games where he hasn't made a three. Hardaway is Michigan's best scorer and it's important to get him touches, but this has been poor play over the past two weeks or so.
  4. The Wolverines have probably been playing to the level of their opponent. Northwestern, Minnesota and Iowa aren't big names and Michigan was favored heading in; UM underperformed in those games. Wisconsin and Indiana are very good teams and Michigan gave the Hoosiers a very close game and ran the Badgers out of the gym. This issue might not play a factor against Michigan State but it's been a pattern through the year (Western Illinois and Bradley are other examples).

This game isn't the end of the world, but it still is a bad loss and it really hurts. Iowa is a team that Michigan should dispatch easily. There's definitely room for concern with the way that Michigan played. Opponents are now hedging hard on screens to prevent Burke drives to the rim and Michigan hasn't been able to come up with a wrinkle to keep them honest. Hardaway and Smotrycz haven't played well lately. You could write this game off as an aberration -- teams lose head-scratchers on the road all the time (look at UNC's demolition at the hands of Florida State -- but still, this was a tough pill to swallow. Hopefully the team gets back on track soon because the biggest game of the season comes on Tuesday as the conference-leading Michigan State Spartans come to Ann Arbor.