It was (unfortunately) an entirely predictable loss as the Michigan Wolverines once again fell short in East Lansing, and in some ways is not the end of the world — Michigan was not going to stay undefeated in Big Ten play forever, and losing on the road to a rival is not going to kill the resume, though it is a morale blow for sure.
The loss itself could be written off as a little fluky, as the Wolverines had maybe their worst shooting game of the season and are unlikely to be so comprehensively cold on most other nights. They will need to prove that to be the case on Thursday, however, as another bad outing, this time against the Iowa Hawkeyes, will make it look like a trend.
Iowa is just 2-3 in the conference but plenty dangerous. Once again, this is a potent offense with a questionable defense, meaning Michigan cannot afford to slump on the offensive end. The teams traded road wins last season, and a second-straight road win in Iowa City would be a good bounce back for the Wolverines.
Michigan Wolverines (9-6, 3-1) at Iowa Hawkeyes (10-6, 2-3)
Date & Time: Thursday, Jan. 12, 7 p.m.
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, IA
Big Ten Standings: MICH 3rd, IOWA t-9th
Just about everyone played poorly over the weekend, as Michigan shot just 4-for-19 from the midrange and 3-for-20 from three. It is a miracle the game was even close, as this level of shooting leads to blowouts like the Arizona State fiasco more often than not. Perhaps it was even more frustrating that the game was within reach, but oh well.
Most of Saturday’s struggles should just be forgotten, but there are a couple meaningful takeaways to watch going forward. The first is that Dug McDaniel and Jett Howard need to keep maturing and play smarter. Foul troubles have been an issue for the freshmen all season long, and the Wolverines are not nearly deep enough to withstand their extended absences. Once Howard exited the first half in East Lansing, the tides turned drastically.
The other piece is Hunter Dickinson, who objectively has struggled to meet his usual standing this season. Against a mediocre Iowa defense (ranked in the 100s) he should be able to feast and own the paint, and he needs to do so in an efficient way, which has definitely not been the case in many key games this season. The junior’s falloff has been surprising and one of the reasons this team is finding so many challenges on offense.
Michigan will not be a good team without Dickinson operating at a high level, but the mini breakout of Tarris Reed has been helpful. The freshman is still pretty low usage on limited minutes, but he has been very active when given the chance and shown a good ability to finish at the rim. This is the right opponent to have another good outing against and is an opportunity to grow his role in the rotation.
All of the factors
While Kenpom and Torvik both have the Hawkeyes with a top-15 offense, the underlying factors behind this efficiency might be a little surprising. Iowa has a very modest eFG rate (50.9) that sits outside the top 100, and its three-point percentage ranks even worse. The trend is only harsher in conference play, with the Hawkeyes sitting near the bottom of the league in both two-point and three-point shooting.
How is the Iowa offense ranked so well, then? It really comes down to everything else that goes into rounding out an attack. The Hawkeyes rarely turn the ball over and are one of the best in the country at just 14.3 percent (though that sits behind Michigan), and they are also great at generating second chances and also getting to the free throw line.
This means the visitors must play very intelligently, not bailing out Iowa with dumb fouls or easy offensive rebounds. Despite the overall modest shooting numbers, there are still players like Kris Murray that need to be followed, but this is a chance for Michigan to earn a road win despite some impressive numbers on paper for the home side.