It’s tough to win road games in the Big Ten. It’s nearly impossible to win road games in the Big Ten with the sort of uninspiring performance that Michigan demonstrated on Saturday afternoon. The Wolverines were never able to find an offensive rhythm and were outworked and outplayed by Iowa for 40 minutes. Michigan made a second half run, cutting the lead to six points in the second half, but it wasn’t nearly enough as Iowa cruised to a 75-59 victory.
Earlier in the week, Michigan beat Northwestern in spite of a horrendous shooting performance because it controlled the offensive glass, didn’t turn the ball over and made free throws. The Wolverines still shot the ball poorly – 46% effective field goal percentage – in Iowa City but failed to make a difference in any of those other areas of the game. Michigan turned the ball over on a quarter of its first half possessions (16% TO Rate for the game), was a non-factor on the offensive glass and made just 11-of-17 free throw attempts. The Wolverines attempted 60% of their field goals from three point range but connected on just 8-of-31 triples.
This wasn’t a game where Michigan’s offense was running smoothly and missing open chances, it was very much the opposite. Everything about the Wolverine offense looked forced and simple passes were an adventure. The turnovers were painful in the first half and Michigan just couldn’t seem to be able to string possessions together without bad field goal attempts mixed in. Sitting Burke in the first half certainly hurt but Michigan’s offense didn’t look all that great with Burke in the lineup either. Iowa threw various defenses – three quarter court traps, zones and basic man-to-man – at Michigan and the Wolverines were unable to find a flow, instead settling for ill advised jumpshots.
Michigan was a minute away from surviving the first half with Trey Burke for 13 minutes only down five points. Iowa closed the half on a 5-0 run, certainly a Key Play, and Michigan was never able to recover. The two fouls and sit debate is a debate worthy of its own post but Burke didn’t pick up his third foul until very late in the game, is called for 1.8 fouls per 40 minutes (6th best in the Big Ten), has twice as many games with no fouls (6) than four fouls (3) and has never fouled out in his career. I don’t think the decision cost Michigan the game by any stretch but I’d like to see John Beilein take a little more risks with foul trouble considering the lack of depth on this roster.
Compounding Michigan’s offensive problems was what was arguably the Wolverines’ worst defensive performance of the season, given the competition. Iowa scored 1.21 points per possession, more than Michigan has surrendered this season against any team other than Duke. This was a good but not an extraordinary shooting performance from the Hawkeyes, who made 48% of their twos and 42% of their threes for a 51% effective field goal percentage. Iowa was solid in each of the other three factors as well. The Hawkeyes got to the line, attempting 28 free throws, didn’t turn the ball over and were effective on the offensive glass, grabbing 36% of their missed shots.
Matt Gatens, 4-of-7 on threes, had all but one of Iowa’s made three point shots but Iowa’s wings and bigs were effective around the basket. Zach McCabe (4-of-5 on twos), Devyn Marble (5-of-11 on twos), and Melsahn Basabe (3-of-5 on twos) all killed Michigan inside.
It sounds cliché to say that Michigan looked flat but, simply put, Michigan looked flat. Iowa beat the Wolverines to numerous fifty-fifty balls, won the battles on the offensive glass and just seemed to play with more purpose. Every Michigan run or spurt was answered by big basket, steal or offensive rebound by the Hawkeyes.
The loss is disheartening but there are still 13 regular season games left to be played. Every Big Ten game is difficult – Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue all lost this week – and success in the league is as much about responding to adversity as anything else. Michigan’s back is against the wall headed into a Tuesday night showdown with Michigan State (who also lost on the road at Northwestern today) as it enters the most difficult stretch of schedule of the season. It’s worth noting that this team has responded well after losses (beating UCLA, Iowa State and Wisconsin) but Tuesday’s game could be a defining moment of the season.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Michigan isn’t going to win games consistently when Hardaway goes 2-of-13 (0-8 3pt) from the field. Michigan needs its superstar to make big plays but he seemed to force shots at times. It’s almost as if Hardaway is trying to recapture the magic of last season, when he seemed to hit big shot after big shot late in games, but gets frustrated when it doesn’t happen. Then again, he’s one of the few players that can truly create his own shot so Michigan needs those attempts.
- Zack Novak: Novak provided about all you could ask for: 14 points on 5-of-10 (4-8 3pt) shooting with eight rebounds. His tendency to try to take charges got the best of him for the second year in a row at Iowa, last year he fouled out of the game on five attempts to draw a charge. This year he caught the bad end of some 50-50 calls yet again.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan only had one shot attempt, mostly because of how Iowa defended the pick-and-roll. Burke couldn’t find him with the pass over Iowa’s taller defenders and Morgan didn’t have a great effort on the glass either, four rebounds in 27 minutes.
- Trey Burke: Burke struggled with the hard hedge on the screen and roll for the second straight game and got most of his points late when Iowa had drastically altered its defense. He hit a pair of early threes when Michigan’s offense was really sputtering and then sat with two fouls for 13 minutes. You can bet that Big Ten teams are going to continue to hard hedge on the screen and roll and it will be up to Burke to figure out a way to connect with the rolling big man.
- Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz is in a major offensive slump and its affecting his entire game. After an 0-for-6 performance today he’s now made just 1 of his last 19 shots but his effort on the defensive end was perhaps more disappointing. His demeanor on the court is maddening at times and reached a boiling point when he drifted down the floor before Michigan secured a defensive rebound and never ran back on defense. Michigan needs Evan’s production, especially with weak depth in the frontcourt, so he’s going to have to get it figured out.
- Stu Douglass: Douglass has quietly been pretty solid throughout Big Ten play. He had nine points on 3-of-6 (2-3 3pt) shooting but didn’t have any assists despite playing significant minutes at point guard in the first half. He’s obviously not a point guard but he’s been consistent shooting the ball and defending.
- Matt Vogrich: Vogrich had just one shot attempt, a three point shot from far too deep, in 18 minutes and grabbed three rebounds.
- Blake McLimans: McLimans had four points and four rebounds in seven minutes and really did some nice things. It would be nice to have Horford on the bench, especially defensively, but McLimans seems to be improving game-by-game.
- Eso Akunne: Five minutes and an assist in spot first half playing time. Akunne isn’t going to be a game changer and he struggled defending Marble late.