Michigan just keeps on rolling. The Wolverines reeled off their eighth straight win, and second in a row over a top ten opponent, with a comfortable 75-67 home victory over Iowa on Wednesday night.
Starting point guard Derrick Walton played just three minutes due to flu-like symptoms while Mitch McGary returned – to the bench in street clothes. But Michigan keeps getting better, clearly playing its best basketball of the season.
Iowa played neck-and-neck with the Wolverines for the first 20 minutes and never folded, a stark change from last year’s matchup. The Hawkeyes made a late run after Michigan stretched its lead to double digits, but the Wolverines just had all the answers.
In the first half, Nik Stauskas played like a pro – answering Melsahn Basabe’s dunks and layups with step-backs, threes and dazzling crossovers. In the second half it was spot-starter Spike Albrecht and sixth-man Zak Irvin that stepped up to provide an offensive boost.
Iowa’s offense had garnered significant hype for its depth, pace an efficiency leading into the game, but Michigan beat the Hawkeyes in just about every stat they were supposed to control.
Fast break points? 12-4. Second chance points? 14-12. Points off turnovers? 20-10. Bench scoring? 12-8.
Next up is a battle for first place in the conference on Saturday in East Lansing against No. 3 Michigan State.
Michigan’s offense started just a bit shaky and fell in love with the three late in the second half, but still scored 1.13 points per possession. Only Notre Dame has scored more effectively against the Hawkeyes this season, and the Wolverine offense was effective despite poor shooting games from Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III. Michigan opened the game with 4 empty possessions and went six of seven possessions without a basket midway through the second half, but scored 73 points in the other 55 possessions of the game – 1.32 points per trip.
The Wolverines shot 61% on twos (shockingly slightly below their Big Ten average) and just 29% on threes, but Fran McCaffery deserves credit for rolling out his 2-3 matchup zone. The Wolverine offense sputtered against the zone, which resulted in 62% of Michigan’s second half field goal attempts coming from behind the arc. Michigan’s offense is up to No. 3 overall in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency numbers and statistically there’s very little separating this offense from last year’s team.
Defensively, Michigan was great through the middle 20 minutes of the game and that turned out to be enough. The Wolverines controlled the pace of the game – the game’s 66 possessions were well below Iowa’s 73 possession average – limiting Iowa’s transition offense and finding timely opportunities the other way. Holding a top-five offense to a point per possession output is an impressive showing for a defense that’s been questioned quite a bit.
Iowa did win the ‘free throw gap’ that we discussed in the preview, but it wasn’t by a wide margin and most of the Hawkeyes’ free throw production was after Michigan established a lead. Iowa did almost all of its damage in the lane, only attempting 19% of its field goals from 3-point range and connecting on just 20%
Melsahn Basabe killed the Wolverines early and Aaron White killed the Wolverines late. For whatever reason, Iowa couldn’t get either player involved consistently. White didn’t take a shot in the first half and used just four Iowa possessions in the first 28 minutes of the game. He used 12 of Iowa’s final 22 possessions and almost led a comeback. Basabe scored 15 points on 10 shots in the first half, but was 0-of-2 in the second half.
Home teams are supposed to win in the Big Ten. The Wolverines should have won this game and they played like it. They didn’t play their best game, but they dictated the pace and won fairly comfortably despite a shortened bench. Michigan and Michigan State not only enter Saturday’s game undefeated, they are two games clear of the rest of the pack.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas put on an offensive clinic, tallying a career high 26 points on 8-of-14 shooting with five assists. His pick-and-roll game was clinical whether it was the mid-range jump shot, the three, the drive to the hoop or the drop off to Jordan Morgan. Most of the shots that Stauskas missed were wide open. There were stretches in the first half where Stauskas’s offensive clinic was reminiscent of Trey Burke against Northwestern – and against a team as good as Iowa, that’s a scary sight. You know Stauskas is playing well when John Beilein admits he’d throw up three goggles himself if there were no cameras around.
- Spike Albrecht: With Walton essentially sidelined due to the flu, Albrecht stepped up and played a career-high 35 minutes in his first career start. He played a critical role forcing five Hawkeye turnovers, including a jumped inbound pass that led to a quick two points. He handed out seven assists (zero turnovers) and knocked down one of his three patented deep three-point attempts. A perfect assist to Robinson over the top of the zone with 2 minutes to play and a pair of late game free throws just sealed the deal in a superb performance.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan’s resurgence continues to be one of the best feel good stories in college basketball. He sustained his ankle injury just over a year ago at Illinois and appears to have made it all the way back. Right now, he’s playing like the Jordan Morgan of two seasons ago. Morgan is shooting a ridiculous 82% from the floor since McGary was sidelined indefinitely. He scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting (including a mid-range jumper) and grabbed seven rebounds in another clutch performance against a tall, active Iowa frontline. He also made two of the biggest defensive plays in the game late when he saved a rebound on the floor headed out of bounds and rejected Basabe at the rim with under a minute to play.
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson really struggled with his jumper – 0-of-5 on threes, 6-of-10 on twos – but he did a great job of attacking the basket in the second half after some indecisiveness in the first. Robinson’s two handed slam on a straight line drive (followed by Albrecht’s steal) to the hoop set the tone and gave U-M a bit of a cushion. His rebounding aggressiveness (four offensive, five defensive) was a welcome sight after a disappointing showing on the glass in Madison.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin has been in a bit of a rut lately, making just one three since his five triple outburst at Minnesota, but he stepped up with 11 critical points off the bench including a five point run by himself. There are still freshman mistakes (especially on defense), but Irvin is very capable of providing a quick scoring burst off the bench.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert struggled to deal with Iowa’s length from the opening tip-off. His final stat line was ugly: Five points on 2-of-9 shooting, 1 assist, 3 turnovers in 34 minutes. He also had a costly string of turnovers and mistakes down the stretch that nearly cost the Wolverines the game. I thought LeVert did a good job getting back in transition, but this is a disappointing follow up to his great showing at Wisconsin.
- Jon Horford: Horford didn’t take a shot, but grabbed three rebounds in just eight minutes of play. It was a quiet performance, but Morgan was playing so well that the Michigan coaches stuck with him.
- Derrick Walton: Walton gave Michigan a few minutes, but turned the ball over. John Beilein reported that he missed the game prep practice with a fever and the Wolverines opted to ride with Spike Albrecht.