As we turn the page from November to December, Michigan basketball will look to carry its early season success down south to Atlantis for the extended holiday weekend. The eight team tournament stretches from Wednesday to Friday, where Coach Juwan Howard’s squad will play a guaranteed three games in three days. Depending on how the chips fall, Michigan has the chance to play North Carolina, Gonzaga, Oregon, or Seton Hall, all teams that lie in the top 15 of the AP Poll.
The Wolverines did all the right things in their final tune up against Houston Baptist, scoring at a very efficient clip. Iowa State, however, presents a tougher task. The Cyclones currently sit at 3-1 on the season, with their only loss coming narrowly to Oregon State. There is expected to be some growing pains for the team as they lost their top three scorers from last season, but two transfers have helped bolster the backcourt. Similarly to how the Wolverines have played the last decade, Iowa State will shoot lots of three-pointers and try to minimize their turnovers.
What to Watch:
Drive and Dish: The dribble-drive to the hoop followed by the kick to the three-point line is something that the Wolverines, specifically Zavier Simpson, have done well this season. The result has been effectiveness from behind the arc from players like Eli Brooks (47.4 percent) and Isaiah Livers (55 percent). Tyrese Haliburton is capable of doing the same thing for the Cyclones though. The second-year player can distribute the ball (10.3 assists/game this year) as well as knock it down from deep (43.4 percent from three last season). His new backcourt-mates can stroke it as well. Colorado State transfer Prentiss Nixon, who sat out last season, made 152 threes in three years for the Rams while Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton, who was ruled immediately eligible after one year in the Big Ten, shot 36 percent from three last season. Players from both teams will look to collapse defenses via dribble penetration but look for a good chunk of both teams shots to be of the three point variety.
The Turnover Battle: As mentioned above, the Cyclones do a good job of taking care of the basketball. Through four games, they have only turned the ball over 38 times, forcing more takeaways than they have committed in every contest. Michigan, on the other hand, has turned the ball over 50 times, only winning the turnover margin twice. It is certainly a small sample size, but Zavier Simpson’s turnover average has nearly doubled from last season, rising to 3.8 per game from 2.0. I fully expect this number to come down to earth and it starts with this matchup against Iowa State. If the Wolverines can get in passing lanes and pressure ball handlers as well as make smart plays with the rock, Michigan will be in a good position to win the game.
Playing through the bigs: When Simpson gets to the rack, he has three options: Go up with his patented hook shot, kick to the three point line, or dump it down insane. Howard has made it clear that Jon Teske is going to be a focal point of the offense. Through four games, we have seen how his post play and passing ability has developed him into a well-rounded center. We have also seen the growth of sophomore forward Colin Castleton, who has played well off the bench for the maize and blue. He looks much more comfortable than he did a year ago and has built solid chemistry with the guards. The Cyclones return one starter in their front court, Michael Jacobson, who is averaging 9.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game thus far. Playing the four is Solomon Young, who has looked very good this season after a severe groin injury shortened his 2018-2019 season. Iowa State will rely on their backcourt more so than their front court, but it will be important for the Wolverines to control the paint and the glass nonetheless in order to win.
What the opponent is saying
After a wildly frustrating 2018-2019 season the ended with a first round exit in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, Iowa State has been up and down again this year, but in a much more pleasing and understandable fashion. 6’5” combo guard Tyrese Haliburton is back and currently sitting 7th in the country in assist rate, and is the unquestioned leader of this young Cyclone squad. He’s been so impressive in his young career, that he’s showing up in the lottery of more and more NBA Mock Drafts in his sophomore season, despite coming out of high school as a little-known three-star recruit. George Conditt is his sophomore running mate in the paint, and the 6’11” senior is leading the country in block percentage at an outstanding 21.5%. When those two are on the floor Iowa State loves to run in transition and use the speed and athleticism advantage they hold over most teams.
As a team, Iowa State is much improved defensively, as a significant uptick in aggression and turnover rate has allowed them to avoid the long defensive possessions that have plagued the program for most of the last decade. However, unlike most of the last decade, this Cyclone has struggled to shoot the three ball mightily, shooting just 27.2% from distance as a team. This percentage is far below the expected ability of the team, as most lineups have at least three guys capable of knocking them down at 35% or better. Needless to say, the Cyclone offense has significantly more room to go if it can improve from deep. This season expected to be a roller coaster, with team looking like a top-15 team at times, and a team that might miss the NIT at other times. Each game so far has been a microcosm of that notion, and I expect that to continue in Atlantis.
In order to come out on top in this one, Michigan is going to have to play a full 40 minutes. After a shaky first half, the Wolverines will settle in and control the second half pace. Some late game free throws help ice the win. 68-63 Michigan.
Teams: Michigan Wolverines (4-0) vs. Iowa State Cyclones (3-1)
Date: Wednesday, November 27, 2019
Location: Imperial Arena at Atlantis Resort, Nassau, Bahamas
Time: 12:00 p.m. EST
Television/Streaming: ESPN/Watch ESPN