Michigan (13-5, 3-2 B1G) fell to #16 Iowa (14-3, 5-0 B1G), 82-71, in Iowa City on Sunday, but it's difficult for the Wolverines to walk away from this result too disappointed.
The last time Michigan went to Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Nik Stauskas and company were ran off the floor. It was the worst loss of the season for the 2014 Wolverines, who would go on to win the Big Ten Championship by three games and lose a classic against Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Without Caris LeVert today, most expected the same fate.
To take down a surging Iowa team on the road, Michigan needed to use the same recipe they utilized against Maryland at Crisler last Tuesday: hit threes and limit turnovers. The Hawkeye forwards are talented, especially stretch-four Jarrod Uthoff, who is second in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings, but they aren’t as physically imposing as the Terrapin big men that Michigan dealt with last week.
However, it felt like Iowa was off to its 11-0 start before I could even get comfortable on the sofa. John Beilein was forced to use his first timeout less than three minutes into the game, putting Marco Rubio on my television screen to kick off the myriad of political advertisements that come with playing the Hawkeyes as we approach the caucus.
But slowly Michigan got their legs under them and erased Iowa’s lead completely with a 13-0 run of their own. Beilein grew visibly frustrated after a few egregious defensive breakdowns allowed Iowa to rebuild their lead, but the Wolverines escaped to halftime down only five.
Michigan quickly overcame that deficit as the second half began, and a back-and-forth game broke out. Uthoff was as advertised, and Zak Irvin picked up where he left off against Maryland – getting good shots, grabbing rebounds, and finding his teammates. But the focal point was Iowa’s Peter Jok who seemed to always be there with an answer, hitting tough shot after tough shot to keep the Hawkeyes ahead.
Michigan stood in and counterpunched as well as they could, but an uncharacteristic amount of turnovers and below-average long-range shooting (35.7 3P%) would be too heavy of a burden for the Wolverines. As mentioned before, it would take a flawless game to knock off the Hawkeyes in Iowa City; 13 turnovers hardly constitutes that.
Unfortunately, the accepted measure for a team’s worth is binary – wins and losses. One can’t distinguish today from the pounding Michigan suffered in the same building two seasons ago by looking at Big Ten standings. But this is a team that stayed composed after being hit in the mouth from the tip -- in a tough environment without its leader and greatest talent, to boot. This is progress, as hard as it is to believe, and that was the toughest remaining game on the regular season schedule.
A moral victory, surely, but still a loss.