Who: #16 Iowa Hawkeyes (20-9, 11-6 Big Ten)
When: Saturday, March 5th, at 8:00 p.m. ET (BTN)
Where: Crisler Center -- Ann Arbor, Mich.
Michigan will honor its two seniors -- its two captains -- on Saturday. Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht weren't supposed to be the leaders of this team. They were just the add-ons to a 2012 class that featured two blue-chip prospects and a Canadian sharpshooter.
Yet no one know knew the indelible impact that both would make on the Michigan basketball program. Along with Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and the other three members of the "Fresh Five," LeVert and Albrecht took Michigan to heights it hadn't reached in two decades. In their first two seasons in Ann Arbor, Michigan was a tip-in away from winning back-to-back Big Ten titles, went to consecutive Elite Eights, and competed for a national championship. They made their marks as individuals, too. LeVert turned out to be a diamond in the rough, transforming into an All-Big Ten second-team selection and showcasing first-round potential as a sophomore. Albrecht had only one of the most memorable and improbable halves ever in a national championship game -- pouring in 17 first-half points against Louisville as a freshman backup point guard that had an offer only from Appalachian State less than a year earlier -- and proved as a junior that he could be a legitimate starting point guard in the Big Ten.
However, when the two are honored tonight, they won't be wearing uniforms.
They will be wearing street clothes, due to season-ending injuries.
And Michigan wishes LeVert and Albrecht were in uniform because tonight's game will have an enormous say in whether or not the Wolverines will make the NCAA Tournament. They are one of the last teams in the field according to most brackets. They are the second-to-last team in on Bracket Matrix. They are the second-to-last team in on ESPN. They are the fourth-to-last team in on CBS Sports. You get the picture. A loss doesn't end their at-large hopes, but it'll be pretty dicey unless they make a run in the Big Ten Tournament. On the other hand, a win gives Michigan its fourth RPI top-30 win, and that plus no bad losses should lead to U-M getting its name called on Selection Sunday.
When Michigan went to Iowa City in mid-January, the Hawkeyes were performing like one of the best teams in the country. That's anything but the case now. Iowa has lost its last four games and five of its last six, and its only win in that span is a four-point home win against lowly Minnesota. This slump has cost Iowa a Big Ten championship, for which it was a clear favorite for awhile, and could lead to finishing as the #8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. It's quite the tumble, and it couldn't come at a better time for U-M.
Offensively, Iowa has one of the best units in the nation, ranking 17th in adjusted efficiency (116.1), but its shot has evaded them in recent weeks. The Hawkeyes rely on jumpers -- they're 323rd in pct. of shots taken at the rim -- so, if those aren't dropping, points don't come easily. However, they can mitigate because they own the best free-throw (41.4 pct.) and turnover (14.6 pct.) rates in Big Ten play. And their more-than-fair share of offensive rebounds (75th in OR%) gives them more than enough opportunities.
The root of Iowa's slump is more based on the defensive end of the floor. The Hawkeyes are 44th in adjusted efficiency (96.7), but they have permitted offenses to score at least a point per possession each of the last six games and more than 1.10 points per possession in four of the past six. It stems from the softness of Iowa's interior defense, which lets opponents makes 48 percent of their twos (136th). Teams haven't felt the need to shoot from three, where Jarrod Uthoff earns many of his blocks. And the inability to foul hasn't helped much either (10th in FTR). Offenses do an OK job of taking care of the ball (127th in TO%), but they capitalize on the glass, where Iowa tends to struggle (271st in DR%).
Iowa is led by 6-foot-9 senior forward Jarrod Uthoff, who likely would be the Big Ten Player of the Year if it wasn't for Denzel Valentine. Uthoff has averaged 18.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.7 BPG. He's an excellent jump shooter, making 39.2 percent of his threes, and he finishes well around the rim when he slashes (46.7 2P%). Plus, he's been much better about getting to the line in Big Ten play (38.2 FTR). He's also a very good defensive rebounder (16.4 DR%) and one of the nation's best perimeter shot blockers (8.9 blk%).
Joining Uthoff in the front court is 7-foot-1 senior center Adam Woodbury, who averages more RPG (8.4) than PPG (7.9). Though Woodbury has a penchant for missed dunks, he usually makes his shots around the rim (57.4 2P%). However, many of his points come at the free-throw line thanks to his 55.4 free-throw rate and 72-percent free-throw shooting. Nonetheless, his biggest impact is on the glass (13.8 OR%, 22.1 DR%).
The Hawkeyes go with a three-guard starting lineup, consisting of 6-foot-6 junior Peter Jok, 6-foot-2 senior Anthony Clemmons, and 6-foot-2 senior Mike Gesell. Jok averages 16.0 PPG and has made a strong case to be on no worse than the All-Big Ten second team. His efficiency is excellent thanks to his three-point shooting (41.6 3P%) and ability to take care of the ball (11.4 TO%). Clemmons and Gesell are essentially the only two Hawkeyes that generate assists on the roster -- Gesell is one of the best in the Big Ten with an assist rate of 34.5 percent -- though Clemmons scores more. Clemmons isn't much of a shooter (31.2 3P%) and succeeds more when he drives to the basket. Gesell absolutely is a shooter (39.5 3P%), but, for some reason, he prefers to bang with the big bodies down low, where he struggles (41.6 2P%). However, Gesell is bailed out by his ability to draw contact when he drives into the interior (43.6 FTR, 73.0 FT%).
Off the bench, Iowa will provide a heavy dose of 6-foot-7 freshmen Ahmad Wagner and Nicholas Baer and 6-foot-9 sophomore Dom Uhl. Uhl scores the most of the bunch, but, despite his size and tendency to grab offensive rebounds, he's better further from the basket (47.1 3P%) than closer (40.4 2P%). Wagner and Baer are more efficient than Uhl, but the two couldn't be more different from the other. Wagner is all about going to the hoop (69.0 2P%, 81.4 FTR), while Baer can hit his jumpers from downtown (43.1 3P%).
Lock Down the Three-Point Line: Jarrod Uthoff will get his points inside, but Iowa doesn't get easy points in the paint. The Hawkeyes shoot lots of jumpers, and, when those are from beyond the arc, they usually go down (28th in 3P%). This was a big reason for Michigan's downfall in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes drained 10-of-22 threes (45.5 pct.). But Iowa has been struggling from deep as of late, and U-M wants it to continue.
Don't Foul: Iowa's shot has been off in recent weeks, but the Hawkeyes have remained in games because they know how to get to the free-throw line. They have the best free-throw rate in Big Ten play. On the other hand, Michigan has the best defensive free-throw rate in Big Ten play. The Wolverines need to force Iowa to win this from the field.
Go to the Rack: Adam Woodbury may seem like an intimidating presence in the paint due to his 7-foot-1 size, but he doesn't patrol the paint that well and neither does Iowa in general. The Hawkeyes do pretty good job harassing folks on the perimeter, but opponents have been able to shoot well inside. Michigan needs to attack and attack.
Michigan gets the job done.
Michigan 72, Iowa 69