Who: #16 Iowa Hawkeyes (13-3, 4-0 B1G)
When: Sunday, January 17th, at 4:30 p.m. ET (BTN)
Where: Carver Hawkeye Arena -- Iowa City, Iowa
Spread: Vegas: +6.5 | KenPom: L, 67-78 (15% WP)
Michigan and Iowa will head into their bout on Sunday after landing top-five wins earlier in the week. On Tuesday, the Wolverines edged #3 Maryland, 70-67, in Ann Arbor, and, on Thursday, the Hawkeyes slayed #4 Michigan State, 76-59, in the Breslin Center of all places. Both teams are feeling confident as a result, but the wins had different meanings of significance for each team. For Michigan, the win gave the Wolverines their first signature victory as they fight to stay away from the NCAA Tournament bubble. For Iowa, though, the win signaled that the Hawkeyes should no longer be overlooked, are one of the best teams in the country, and are the early favorite to win the Big Ten title.
Accordingly, this will be a difficult contest for Michigan to win in Iowa City, particularly because Caris LeVert still is "temporarily" out with a lower left leg injury and should miss his fourth straight game. However, the Wolverines are playing with house money. They're not expected to win, and losing to an elite team on the road without their best player is nothing to be ashamed of. But, on the other hand, if Michigan can surprise Iowa with an upset, it would hand the Wolverines their second straight signature win and shoot them up from the #8 and #9 spots on the NCAA Tournament seed ladder.
Iowa is 13-3 and a perfect 4-0 in the Big Ten, the latter of which was not easy to come by. The Hawkeyes had the toughest four-game opening stretch of the Big Ten season, yet they were able to sweep the Spartans with two double-digit wins and stun Purdue in West Lafayette with a furious second-half rally. Add in that Iowa has non-conference wins over Wichita State and Florida State, who are #23 and #42 on KenPom, respectively, and three competitive losses to KenPom top-50 teams, and it explains how the Hawkeyes have risen from the mid-30s all the way to #4 in KenPom's rankings.
Iowa is well-balanced, excelling on both ends of the court. The Hawkeyes are 11th in adjusted offensive efficiency (117.3) and 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency (92.4). Offensively, their strengths are handling the basketball (8th in TO%) and three-point shooting (15th in 3P%) as they have a lineup that's a bit more perimeter-oriented despite being 17th in effective height. The Hawkeyes are solid on the inside as well, ranking 105th in two-point shooting (50.0 pct.) and 112th in offensive rebounding rate (32.1 pct.), but they're not the type of team that tends to bully opponents in the paint. Further, for much of the season, they have drawn very few shooting fouls (316th in FTR). However, it must be noted that Iowa has made an effort to get to the charity stripe in conference play, during which Iowa has earned the highest free-throw rate (42.1 pct.) in the Big Ten. This sudden spike should be attributed to their two home games against Michigan State (31 FTA) and Nebraska (32 FTA), so Iowa may be much more aggressive at Carver Hawkeye.
Defensively, Iowa's length plays a monumental role. The Hawkeyes block a ton of shots (6th in blk%) and do so without fouling (14th in FTR). This also contributes to their shooting defense (35th in eFG%), which is superb on the perimeter (12th in 3P%) but can be exploited inside the arc (101st in 2P%). They're also above-average in turnover rate (105th) because their length allows them to get into passing lanes for steals (88th). However, the one area where their length doesn't assist them is defensive rebounding. Iowa has grabbed only 31.6 percent of its opponents' missed shots (231st in DR%).
Also, UMHoops' Dylan Burkhardt found this interesting nugget on Synergy Sports:
Iowa’s pick-and-roll defense is fantastic, ranked in the 97th percentile nationally, and is better at taking away the ball handler than the roll man. The Hawkeyes are less effective in defending straight isolation sets, ranked in the 43rd percentile, which could leave some opportunities for Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman to attack.
Iowa is led by 6-foot-9 senior power forward Jarrod Uthoff, who's performing like an All-American in his first and only season as the alpha. Uthoff is the Big Ten's second-leading scorer (18.4 PPG) thanks to his lethal jump shot. Almost half of his field-goal attempts are two-point jumpers, many of which are from mid-range, and he's knocked down over 40 percent of them. Further, Uthoff has no problem stepping back and drilling threes (44.6 pct.). Despite his size, don't expect him to attack the rim often or draw many whistles, but he is very effective when he does. Defensively, Uthoff is solid on the boards (6.4 RPG) but makes his mark by being one of the nation's best shot-blockers (3.2 BPG).
Joining Uthoff in the frontcourt is 7-foot-1 senior center Adam Woodbury. When Woodbury isn't poking opponents in the eye, he's averaging 8.3 PPG and 6.3 RPG. However, he doesn't have the impact that one might think a 7-foot-1 center should have. He's not a rim protector (0.3 BPG), he's a solid defensive rebounder but nothing special (16.3 DR%), and, unless he has an open dunk or layup, scoring doesn't come naturally to him (42.3 2P% in B1G play). However, where Woodbury contributes the most is on the offensive glass. He averages 2.5 ORPG, and his offensive rebounding rate (11.6 pct.) is the eighth-best in the Big Ten. If opponents can box him out on that end, they can limit him.
Three guards will complement Uthoff and Woodbury in the starting lineup. The point guard is 6-foot-2 senior Mike Gesell, who is one of the nation's best distributors. He tallies 6.9 APG, which is ninth, and his assist rate (38.7 pct.) is 12th. Essentially, he's competing with Northwestern's Bryant McIntosh and Michigan State's Denzel Valentine as the Big Ten's best passer. That's not Gesell's only skill, though. He also prefers to attack the rim, where he may not be the best finisher (47.8 2P%) but creates lots of contact (50.5 FTR). Also, Gesell doesn't shoot many, but he can bury the three (47.6 pct.).
The other two starting guards are 6-foot-6 junior Peter Jok and 6-foot-2 senior Anthony Clemmons. By the way, if you weren't counting, yes, that's four seniors and a junior in Iowa's starting lineup. Experience must be nice, huh? Anywho, Jok is Iowa's second-leading scorer (13.8 PPG) and mostly a jump-shooter (36.8 3P%) as he's taken very few shots at the rim. He's very streaky, too. He's as likely to go off for 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting like he did in Iowa's last game against Michigan State as he is for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting like he did in the game prior against Nebraska. Also, defensively, Jok can be a pest, averaging 1.4 SPG. On the other hand, Clemmons isn't the scorer (8.0 PPG) that Jok is. Clemmons is more of a slasher, taking more than one-third of his field goals around the bucket, but he doesn't finish that well (49.3 2P%) and isn't a great outside shooter either (31.7 3P%). Offensively, Clemmons is much better as a setup man. He averages 3.6 APG and helps take some of the burden of running the offense off Gesell.
There are three key reserves that Iowa will play. The most important one is 6-foot-9 German sophomore Dom Uhl, who averages 7.4 PPG and 4.4 RPG in 18.1 MPG. Uhl's length allows him to a great shot-blocker and offensive rebounder, but he also spaces the floor for Iowa's offense, knocking down 16-of-31 threes (51.6 pct.) overall and 7-of-9 (77.8 pct.) against Big Ten teams. Next is 6-foot-7 freshman wing Nicholas Baer. He is a low-usage player, but he is similar to Uhl in that he gets after it on the offensive glass (8.4 OR%) , swats shots (6.7 blk%), and spaces the floor (58.1 2P%, 48.5 3P%). The last reserve is 6-foot-4 freshman guard Brady Ellingson, who basically is a below-average three-point specialist (30.3 3P%). However, he hasn't missed a two all season long (14-of-14).
Knock Down Threes: This is a battle of strength against strength. Not only may this Michigan outfit be the be the best three-point shooting team in school history, it may be the best in the nation this season. The Wolverines are 14th in three-point rate (46.1 pct.) and ninth in three-point percentage (42.8 pct.). On the other hand, opponents have made only 29.6 percent of their threes against Iowa (12th). The Hawkeyes' length on the perimeter has made it difficult for opponents to get clean looks on the outside. Michigan's sharpshooters can't allow that to bother them in this game on Sunday.
Contest Jumpers: On a similar note, Michigan's defense needs to bother and harass Iowa on its jumpers. The Hawkeyes are one of the taller teams in the country, but they gravitate towards shooting from the perimeter rather than attacking inside. They are great at it, too, as they are 15th in three-point percentage (40.2 pct.) and can connect from mid-range as well. Contesting shots has not been a strength of Michigan's, though. The Wolverines have lost their assignments off the ball and been lazy with their closeouts. That won't be acceptable on Sunday. If that happens, Iowa will bury them.
Box Out Adam Woodbury, Dom Uhl, and Jarrod Uthoff: Iowa isn't a monster on the offensive boards (112th in OR%), but the Hawkeyes are tall enough and tough enough to inflict some damage there if Michigan isn't careful. In their last game against a Michigan State team that is excellent on the defensive glass, they snagged almost one-third of their misses as Woodbury, Uhl, and Uthoff combined for 10 offensive rebounds. Michigan cannot allow that to happen because, if it does, that's when Michigan has been most vulnerable to losing this season. Michigan must, must limit Iowa's extra possessions.
Get Mark Donnal Goggles: Michigan must protect its best big man from any eye-poking.
Iowa isn't as much of a mismatch for Michigan as Purdue was, but this game could have a similar outcome. The Hawkeyes are playing some of the best basketball in the country right now and are on a roll. If they had no fear about going into the Breslin Center and smacking around the Spartans, they won't be intimidated by a Caris LeVert-less Michigan team (most likely) on their home court. Speaking of which, Carver Hawkeye Arena has not been a fun place for Michigan. In the last few seasons when Iowa has been good, the Hawkeyes have beaten Michigan fairly soundly there, and even the bad Hawkeye teams before that usually pushed the Wolverines to overtime. This isn't a bad Hawkeye team. This might be their best, and their ability to give their opponents fits behind the three-point line will be what does the Wolverines in. Don't expect a close one.
Iowa 83, Michigan 69