Team 100

Game 18: Michigan at Iowa Preview

Fair or unfair, the perception of Iowa under Fran McCaffery seems to be a talented program that always seems to disappoint at the most opportune times. Four games into the Big Ten season, this Iowa team has proven that its different.

Who: Michigan (13-4, 3-1 B1G) at No. 16 Iowa (13-3, 4-0 B1G) Iowa-Hawkeyes-Logo-wordmark-vinyl-decal11[1]
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, IA
When: 4:30 p.m., January 17th, 2016
Radio: 950 AM, 102.9 FM

Fair or unfair, the perception of Iowa under Fran McCaffery has been that the Hawkeyes are a talented program that always seems to disappoint at the most opportune times. Four games into the Big Ten season, this Iowa team has proven that it’s different.

Sure they had a disappointing collapse at Iowa State, blowing a 14 point half time lead, but they’ve also played the best basketball in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes have already beaten Michigan State twice, by a combined margin of 30 points, and won on the road at Purdue.

How good has Iowa been? The Hawkeyes have crept up to Iowa up to 4th nationally in KenPom’s after their Thursday night win in East Lansing. They are outscoring Big Ten opponents by 17.7 points per 100 possessions despite playing the toughest league slate.

The Hawkeyes

Iowa grades out as the most-balanced team in the Big Ten, ranked 10th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Hawkeyes are scoring 1.14 points per possession and allowing .96 points per possession in Big Ten play.

Iowa shoots more twos than threes, but the shot attempts inside the arc are body blows until the three-point shot delivers the knock out blow.  Only 31% of the Hawkeyes’ shot attempts are threes, but they’ve made 42.3% of them in Big Ten play — second best only to Michigan. Iowa is only shooting 45.3% inside the arc despite the higher volume of attempts thanks to an affinity of the mid-range shot. Of the 14 Big Ten teams, only Illinois attempts a higher ratio of mid-range shots according to Shot Analytics.

Defensively, Iowa has done a terrific job of taking away the three. Hawkeye opponents are shooting just 28% on three-point attempts in league play (1st) and 48% on twos (6th) for a 46.2 eFG% (3rd). The Hawkeyes have forced turnovers on 20.4% (3rd) of Big Ten opponents’ possessions and they’ve been able to lead the league in shot blocking despite only allowing 27 free throws per 100 field goal attempts (2nd). The lone weak spot in Iowa’s defense is the one area where Michigan is least-equipped to take advantage. Big Ten foes have rebounded 34% of their misses (12th) against the Hawkeyes.

Iowa’s pick-and-roll defense is fantastic, ranked in the 97th percentile nationally, and is better at taking away the ball handler than the roll man. The Hawkeyes are less effective in defending straight isolation sets, ranked in the 43rd percentile, which could leave some opportunities for Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman to attack.

Iowa plays zone defense on around a fifth of its defensive possessions, but I’d be surprised if Fran McCaffery rolls out the zone against Michigan. The Hawkeyes are ranked in the 95th percentile in man-to-man defense and just the 46th percentile in the zone.


6-foot-9 senior Jarrod Uthoff is playing All-American caliber basketball, averaging 19 points and six rebounds per game. He’s shooting 50% on twos and 45% from long distance while ranking in the top 20 nationally in shot blocking rate. Uthoff scores all over the floor and is one of the most versatile scorers in the Big Ten if not the country.


Uthoff is an elite spot-up player with the ability to shoot over or drive past defenders. He’s also more than capable with his back to the basket, grading out in the 90th percentile nationally in post-up offense.

6-foot-6 junior Peter Jok has elevated his game after a pedestrian sophomore season. He’s shooting 45% on twos and 37% on threes this season, but he’s McCaffery’s favorite player to run off of a gamut of screens to setup an open jumper. Jok has a tendency to rack up steals, but he also grades out as one of Iowa’s poorer defenders according to Synergy Sports.


7-foot-1, 250 pound big man Adam Woodbury is finally a senior and he continues to provide a solid presence down low. The Hawkeyes don’t throw the ball into Woodbury in the post very often, but he remains involved in the offense with his ability to cut and roll to the hoop, finish at the rim and rack up offensive rebounds.

Iowa doesn’t have a true backup five in a Woodbury sense, but Dom Uhl, a 6-foot-9, 215 pound sophomore, provides a devastatingly efficient inside-outside threat to flank Uthoff. Uhl shoots 46% on twos and 52% (16-31) on threes while providing a shot blocking and offensive rebounding presence.

Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons play the majority of the minutes at the one and two positions. Gessell is ranked 12th nationally in assists rate, but Clemmons also has the ability to create for others. Now a senior, Gesell is Iowa’s primary pick-and-roll creator, but that’s usually when the game requires him not as a regular feature of his game. He shoots 48% on threes, but 81% of his shot attempts are twos.

Freshman forward Nicholas Baer has emerged in recent weeks, shooting 58% on twos and 49% on threes off the bench.


  • Contest against length: The secret to Iowa’s success is that they have a roster loaded with guys who can shoot right over smaller defenders. Iowa’s offense is great in spot-up situations (88th percentile) and Michigan’s defense against spot-ups has been awful. Iowa has the length to casually shoot over weak contests and this Wolverine team has been terrible closing out on shooters. Overall, Michigan ranks in the 9th percentile defending spot-up possessions, according to Synergy Sports, and every guard or wing rotation player other than Caris LeVert (55th) grade out individually in the 33rd percentile or below.
  • Irvin vs. Uthoff:  It seems that Zak Irvin is involved in the swing match-up in almost every game at this point. His inconsistency makes that a bit troubling, but he showed against Maryland that he’s capable of taking a game over. Jarrod Uthoff will be an incredibly difficult defensive assignment for Irvin. He can go into the post, step out and shoot over him and is really good moving without the basketball. Uthoff isn’t used to guarding ball screens (he’s defended 10 this season), but he moves better and has more length than many of the bigger defenders that Irvin has been able to beat on the perimeter.
  • Rebounds and hustle: Iowa is only an above-average offensive rebounding team, but any team that has a five offensive rebound possession at the Breslin Center has some legitimate toughness. Michigan showed an improved ability to battle around the basket and win 50-50 balls and it’ll have to carry that momentum over on the road if it wants to escape with a road upset.

Bottom Line

The last time these teams met, the Hawkeyes blew the Wolverines out in Ann Arbor by 18 points in a game that was never competitive. This isn’t the same Michigan team, but Uthoff, Gessell, Jok and Woodbury all had big games and the Wolverines will want to prove that this is a different season.

With Iowa up to fourth in KenPom’s rankings, this qualifies as the hardest game left on Michigan’s schedule. KenPom’s metrics give Michigan just a 16% chance at a road upset, projecting a 78-67 Hawkeye win in a 66 possession game.

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