On Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines suffered their worst offensive performance of the season in a loss to the Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing. Now, they head to Iowa City to face the Iowa Hawkeyes, the worst defense statistically in the Big Ten.
Could a bounce-back game be in order? Let’s break the matchup down with the players to watch in this matchup.
Iowa: Kris Murray
Kris Murray has played in 12 games for Iowa this season, and he’s scored 30 points or more in four of them. Since his brother Keegan left for the NBA (where he was drafted No. 4 overall to the Sacramento Kings), Kris has become possibly the best player in the Big Ten.
The 6-foot-8 junior is averaging 20.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game while shooting at a 52.2% clip and 38.7% from deep. Murray is one of, if not the toughest player to guard in the conference because of his ability to stretch the floor and get down and dirty in the paint.
Kris Murray with an incredible game in Iowa’s 91-89 comeback W vs #15 IU— Ryan Hammer (@ryanhammer09) January 6, 2023
3-6 from 3
Particularly loved his off ball game. High IQ cutting, finding space to for C&S. Length is so effective at the rim
However, if you can stop him, Iowa’s offense goes kaput. Every game where he has scored 20 or less has been a nail-biter or a loss except for their most recent win over Rutgers. In Iowa’s blowout loss to Duke, Murray was 3-for-9 with a season-low 8 points, all coming from the paint or the free throw line.
Michigan will need to replicate that defensive prowess to slow him down, as Murray has torched just about everyone he has played this season. The Wolverines 13th-ranked Big Ten defense, better than just this Iowa team, spells for a big game for Murray. Expect Terrance Williams and Jett Howard to see a lot of time guarding the athletic wing, and having a tough time slowing him down.
Michigan: Terrance Williams
T-Will was valuable off the bench for Michigan in 2021-22 thanks to his tough defense and quality shooting from behind the arc. Averaging about 15 minutes and 4.7 points a game, Williams shot 45.5% from the field and 38.5% from deep. His metrics estimated him to be a slightly above-average defender to go along with those solid offensive numbers.
Recently, the ball has not bounced Williams’ way. His defensive metrics are lower and he has been terrible on the offensive end. His shooting is down to 37.1% from the field and just 29.5% from behind the arc. For a veteran player to perform this poorly halfway through the season on a young team like this spells for the kind of season that Michigan is having to this point.
This game can go one of two ways for Williams. Odds are he is the primary defender against one of the best players in the Big Ten in Murray. If he performs well, Michigan should have a shot at competing in this game. Usually, good defense leads to good offense, and that’s exactly what T-Will needs to get back into the swing of things.
Or... Williams gets cooked by Murray, and continues to struggle on the offensive side of the ball, making this run that he is on makes his starting role up for grabs. I’m sure Joey Baker is jumping at the bit to finally get a starting spot at the collegiate level, and if this trend continues for Williams, I wouldn’t be surprised if he got the chance.
Iowa: Filip Rebraca
In Iowa’s last 10 games, Filip Rebraca has scored double-digit points for the most potent offense in the Big Ten. The 6-foot-9 Serbian does everything you would expect from a veteran European big man. He’s crafty with the ball in his hands in the post, can facilitate well when asked to, and rebounds the ball at a high level.
Unlike Murray, he is not a threat outside of the painted area, and a matchup with Hunter Dickinson will not be easy. But we have seen Dickinson struggle against guys who can score in the past. Just ask UNC’s Armando Bacot who dropped 26 points on Michigan earlier this season. Now, Rebraca isn’t near Bacot’s level, but he could still cause problems in the paint if Dickinson gets in foul trouble and doesn’t play well.
Michigan: Jett Howard
If the Wolverines are going to keep up with the Hawkeyes, they will need to score the basketball. That’s something they have not been doing a great job of as of late, and part of the blame falls on freshman wing Jett Howard.
Howard’s offensive numbers over the last four games are less than stellar: 12-40 (30%) from the field and 7-26 from deep (26.6%) averaging 10.5 points per game. That’s far below the production we saw from the coach’s son to kick off the season.
This team is only going to go as far as Jett Howard goes. He is the key to flipping around the Michigan offense and pushing the Wolverines back toward contention for an NCAA Tournament. The problem is, I think he knows that, and he makes a lot of questionable decisions on the offensive side of the floor taking shots too early in the shot clock and playing 1-on-1 basketball.
Right now, Howard is a blessing and a curse to this Michigan squad. He has the talent on both ends to be an NBA player and a damn good one. But he needs to get his mind right and play a role in the offense rather than trying to play hero ball as much as he does in games, leading to inefficient opportunities.