The weaknesses on this team were not exactly hidden, but it takes multiple deficiencies to be exploited at once to take down this iteration of Michigan basketball. For the second time this season, the Wolverines fell in an unfavorable road environment, this time looking completely overmatched against Iowa.
To get it out of the way: yes, the referees played far too large of a role in the game, especially early on. Questionable calls against a Michigan team who is among the best in the country at not fouling threw the whole game plan into doubt almost from the beginning. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of parties who also share the blame in the defeat.
Desperate for depth
Head coach John Beilein has relied on a seven-man rotation for most of the season, and it has worked fairly well for the most part. One reason for the tightened squad is an obvious lack of depth at the five spot. Isaiah Livers can (and does) take over when Jon Teske exits, but after that there is a giant question mark.
Beilein has tried going to Austin Davis, but calling him a disaster might be an understatement. Against Iowa, he was proceeded by freshman Brandon Johns, who has plenty of potential but little production. Neither was a factor on Friday night, and the dropoff after Teske is astronomical.
Typically this should not be an issue; Teske is good about avoiding foul trouble and is a definite advantage when he is in the game. But if this situation arises again — especially in a tournament setting — Michigan may be out of luck. Johns is going to need to develop quickly, which is unlikely to happen unless Beilein opens up the rotation.
A broken record
I know, I said I would stop complaining about three-point shooting, but we have come to the place where it is actively holding the team back. 24.2 percent on 33(!) attempts. I know it was against some zone defense, but come on.
Michigan is shooting 31.5 percent from deep in conference play, good for 10th in the Big Ten. Zavier Simpson: 0-for-5. Charles Matthews: 2-for-7. The two capable shooters, Livers and Jordan Poole, shot a combined 30.1 percent. Try convincing me these were good shots and the only options available, because I am very far from sold.
I do concede that nothing was working inside the arc either, as the Wolverines shot just 40.1 percent on twos. However, the three montage against Iowa was just the latest data point in a continuing trend and it simply has to stop. It has to. Simpson and Matthews are killing this team with their deep shooting.
It felt like Iowa was having its way on offense, which maybe was true to an extent. 1.02 PPP was Michigan’s worst in a while, and all of the fouls made the big men essentially helpless on defense in the paint. Still, this offensive production was, if anything, actually below-average for the Hawkeyes. A 50.9 percent eFG is good but not the real culprit.
Instead, it was Michigan’s paltry offensive 0.81 PPP that iced the game. As mentioned, shot selection was a big issue, but so was finishing. 9-for-21 at the rim is unacceptable, and while poor shooting nights happen, this effort came against one of the worst defenses in the conference.
As long as the Wolverines avoid foul trouble (which they typically will) then the defense should be fine. The offense has slipped down to No. 45 in Kenpom, which feels harsh but painfully accurate. Perhaps all that is needed is some positive regression, but recent performances should start causing some worry among the fan base.