The No. 12 Iowa Hawkeyes (14-18, 4-14 B1G) thwarted the No. 13 Illinois Fighting Illini (14-18, 4-14 B1G) in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament Wednesday, setting up a Thursday afternoon date with the No. 5 Michigan Wolverines.
The Wolverines (24-7, 13-5 B1G) earned rights to a first-round bye after winning seven of their last eight games to close out the regular season.
Michigan has gotten the best of Iowa in both meetings this season, winning Jan. 2 75-68 and Feb. 14 74-59.
Despite Iowa heading into tournament play losing six of its last seven, it certainly won’t be a walk in the park for John Beilein and Co., who are trying for back-to-back titles.
In order to play on to tomorrow, here are the three keys to secure a Michigan victory.
Dunc on ‘em
The Wolverines, after Saturday’s dominant 85-61 victory over Maryland, are now 20-0 when Duncan Robinson scores six points or more. John Beilein has to find away to get the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year involved against an Iowa defense that gave up the most three-pointers in the conference.
Robinson is one of the best three-point shooters the Wolverines have, and a strong showing off the bench from him has proved to be all the difference. In a Feb. 21 72-63 win at Penn State, he led the way with a team-high 19, the most points since dropping 21 in the opener against North Florida.
In Michigan’s last contest with Iowa on Feb. 14, the Hawkeyes watched Robinson torch them, shooting 6-for-8 from three with 18 points.
You know what leading scorers Moritz Wagner, Charles Matthews Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman are capable of, but a hot-hand off the bench in Robinson should give Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery nightmares.
Battle of the bigs
One of the most exciting things to watch in this game will be the matchup of the big men between Michigan’s Wagner and Iowa’s Tyler Cook.
Cook, who led the Hawkeyes with 15.3 PPG and 6.9 RPG, looked great Wednesday against the Fighting Illini. At 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, he’s also incredibly quick which presents so many difficulties for the opposing defense.
Wagner, who is equally dominant, was Michigan’s leading scorer, best rebounder, second-best shot blocker and third-best three-point shooter this season. The edge Wagner has over Cook comes beyond the arc, which is foreign to the Hawkeyes forward.
Slow the Bo
What Illinois failed to do could also be Michigan’s Achilles heel, if they’re not careful.
Guard Jordan Bohannon was the difference-maker in Wednesday’s win, leading the Hawkeyes with 25 points and shooting 5-for-7 beyond the arc.
Bohannon trails Cook as Iowa’s leading scorer, but he is just as dangerous. As one of the best three-point shooters in the Big 10 — nearly a 43 percent mark — the 6-foot guard is not hesitant to pull the trigger from anywhere. He’s hoisted as many as 14 three balls up in one game and has made as many seven, both accomplished Feb. 25 against Northwestern.
The Michigan defense did a good job containing him — and will need to do so again Thursday — holding him to just one made three on a trio of attempts last meeting.
As the third-highest scoring squad in the conference, slowing the roll of a Bohannon-Cook duo could be all the difference in Thursday’s contest.
It’s nearly impossible to ignore the Iowa offense scoring 96 points in 40 minutes Wednesday. But, Illinois gives up the third-most points per game to opponents at a 73.1 clip. That depletes that feat a little bit, doesn’t it?
Not to mention, Iowa has the worst defensive unit in the Big Ten in terms of opponents PPG (78.5). Considering the last time Michigan took the floor they dropped 54 points in the first half against Maryland, Beilein has too many weapons in all facets of the game.
Plus, betting against John Beilein and this Michigan team at this point in the season is a bad, bad move.
The winner of Thursday’s affair will play the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers Friday, owners of one of four double-byes.
Teams: No. 12 Iowa Hawkeyes (14-18, 4-14 B1G) vs No. 5 Michigan Wolverines (24-7, 13-5 B1G)
Date: March 1, 2018
Location: Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York
Tipoff: 2:25 p.m. ET
Watch: Big Ten Network