The No. 5 Michigan Wolverines (25-7, 13-5 B1G) overcame a shoddy shooting performance and foul trouble to knock the No. 12 Iowa Hawkeyes (14-19, 4-14 B1G) out in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday.
Next up for the Wolverines: the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers (22-9, 13-5 B1G).
The last time, and only time this year, the two teams met leaves a bad taste in the mouth of Michigan fans. A 72-52 defeat in January, where the Wolverines shot 37 percent from the field is the reason why the Cornhuskers are enjoying an extra day’s of rest as owners of a double-bye in the tournament.
Though Michigan finished with a better overall record and tied Nebraska in the conference standings, it lost out on the tiebreaker and more importantly, a top-four seed in the B1G tourney.
With a bit of a chip on their shoulder, here are the three keys the Wolverines need to advance to the third round of tournament play
Stay outta trouble
John Beilein’s bunch had an uncharacteristically tough time staying out of foul trouble Thursday against Iowa. Their 22 team fouls were the most since committing 25 in East Lansing against Michigan State on Jan. 13, a span of 13 games.
While they did a good job of limiting the Hawkeyes to just 18 trips to the line, it felt as if the Wolverines scrambled all afternoon.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Moritz Wagner, two centerpieces in the Michigan offense, both fouled out. Wagner scored 11 points in 16 minutes, while Abdur-Rahkman chimed in with 9 in 22 minutes.
This forced Beilein to juggle his starting rotation a bit, calling on Jon Teske to relieve Wagner’s duties for the rest of the game. The sophomore center may have been the unsung hero in this Michigan win after tying a career-high 28 minutes played.
As the tournament progresses, we can all agree you have the best chance to win if your best guys are on the floor. Though they squeaked out a win Thursday, they’ll have to clean it up before another sloppy outing sends the Wolverines home early in the B1G Tournament.
A lot of John Beilein teams have survived and advanced in March by living by the three ball, which almost didn’t hold to be true Thursday.
The Wolverines shot a ghastly 15.8 percent (!!) from beyond the arc against Iowa, converting on just three in 19 tries. Sixth Man of the Year Duncan Robinson came off the bench and hit the team’s trio of threes in timely fashion.
U-M made a living inside the paint Thursday, but that kind of shooting won’t live to see past the second round if they replicate that kind of performance against Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers own the best three-point defense in the conference. They allow opponents to connect on 32 percent of three-pointers, which would not bode well with the downtown struggles Michigan endured against Iowa.
One of the better three-point squads in the B1G at 37 percent, it’s likely to believe Thursday was just a slump. One big, giant, ugly slump.
The only way to get out of a shooting slump? You guessed it: Keep shooting.
Right your wrongs
The Wolverines would be lying if they don’t go into Friday’s date with the Cornhuskers with a bit of a chip on their shoulder.
They’ve been waiting for this game — redemption rather — for quite some time. Michigan was embarrassed on Nebraska’s home floor in January, handed its largest loss of the season.
In order to right their wrongs, they’ll need to take care of the little things that almost plagued them Thursday.
They’ll have to heavily monitor Nebraska’s big three of James Palmer Jr., Isaac Copeland and Glynn Watson Jr, who combined for 40 points in that January beatdown. It also didn’t help Michigan’s cause connecting on 38 percent of its shots while the opposition hit more than half of theirs that night.
Beilein is going to rely on Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman, plus a strong presence off the bench in Robinson, to silence the Cornhuskers.
Going into Thursday’s game, it really felt as if Iowa was just a little bump in the road for a Michigan team poised for yet another B1G Tournament run. Un-Beilein-like shooting and costly foul trouble brought the Wolverines back to reality just in time for Friday.
Against the Cornhuskers, it’s going to be all about redemption and revenge. Michigan is the better of the two teams. They score more points, shoot better from the field, take better care of the ball, and come into play on a six-game hot streak.
And as the old basketball cliche goes, it’s really tough to beat the same team twice in the same season.
Teams: No. 5 Michigan Wolverines (25-7, 13-5 B1G) vs No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers (22-9, 13-5 B1G)
Date: March 2, 2018
Location: Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York
Tipoff: 2:25 p.m. ET