Michigan dropped its second Big Ten game of the season in Iowa City on Sunday evening, falling to an Iowa team that continues to emerge as one of the best in the Big Ten.
In an 82-71 loss that fell in line with KenPom’s projected 11-point spread, there were plenty of encouraging moments to fall in line with expected frustrating moments in the loss. Perhaps most encouraging, was Michigan’s ability to consistently battle back on the road.
The Hawkeyes jumped out to an 11-0 run to start the game, but Michigan returned a punch from its back foot. The Wolverines managed to take a one-point lead midway through the first half and had two single-point leads in the second. But Iowa controlled the game and never let Michigan’s lead grow, while continually stretching its lead to double-digits and forcing the Wolverines to battle back.
It wasn’t a win, but it felt like another positive step in the right direction for a Michigan team that continues to play without its best player.
Michigan’s offense went through some lengthy droughts, but also reached potent levels for several three or four minute stretches. In the end, the Wolverines scored 1.12 points per possession — good for the 2nd best offensive performance against Iowa this season.
The scary part of this offensive showing is that the Wolverines still threw far too many possessions. Turnovers were their great undoing, giving the ball away once every five trips, but there were more rushed early shots and missed layups than you can count on one hand. The Hawkeyes outscored Michigan 16-6 in points off of turnovers and those sloppy possessions didn’t just hamstring the Wolverine offense, they put the defense in a bad spot as well.
The Wolverines just couldn’t find the answers to defend Iowa’s length. Michigan is notoriously bad on closing out against shooters and the Hawkeyes have the length to shoot over weak closeouts. Time and time again, Iowa hit big shots whenever Michigan made a run. The Hawkeyes hit 10-of-22 three-point attempts and connected on 5-of-7 attempts from the corner — the majority of which were backbreakers for the Wolverine defense.
Iowa is playing great basketball, but it’s nearly impossible to win games when the other team scores 1.29 points per possession. Michigan has played the second-toughest schedule in the Big Ten to date, per KenPom, but ranks just 11th in the conference in defensive efficiency and 132nd nationally.
Michigan got the win it needed on Tuesday and survived its critical three-game stretch with one win and two road losses. That’s a passing grade, but now the pressure is on again. Minnesota, at Nebraska, Rutgers and Penn State at Madison Square Garden is a far more manageable stretch, but one where the Wolverines can’t afford to drop many, if any, games. Caris LeVert’s health remains a major question mark, but Michigan is figuring out ways to improve even without him.
- Derrick Walton: It wasn’t an efficient day for Walton shooting the ball (2-3 on 2s, 3-of-11 on 3s), but his perimeter shot kept Michigan in the game in the second half and his 6-to-1 assist turnover ratio did the job as well while his fellow starters combined for 11 turnovers in the loss. There were still times that Michigan didn’t seem to get into its sets quick enough against the Iowa defense, but Walton did a decent job of creating whatever he could in pressure situations.
- Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins had some bright spots and one black-eye (a turnover and a few botched defensive possessions late in the first half). He threw a backdoor pass for a layup in the first half that earned him a hug in the middle of the game from John Beilein. He also had the three-point shot clicking (3-of-5) and finished a dunk on a cut against the zone. Dawkins has emerged as a legitimate threat as a sixth man and has settled into that role nicely in league play.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Like most of his teammates, Abdur-Rahkman had a few bad giveaways and a few very nice drives to the hoop. He loves shooting from the left side of the floor and knocked in his only three-pointer from that side and had his second-straight four assist game. Abdur-Rahkman drew the unenviable assignment of chasing Peter Jok around through an array of off ball screens and did a decent job, but wore down a bit at the end of the game.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin had some big moments and finished with 11 points, 8 rebounds and five dimes, but he was benched for a critical stretch (6 minute mark to the final minute) late as he struggled with turnovers and Dawkins got hot. Irvin can be so instrumental in the runs that Michigan makes, but he needs to be more consistent with his decision making as a primary playmaker.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson had his first off-day shooting the ball in months, making 2-of-8 three-point attempts, but I think he deserves some credit for the job he did on Jarrod Uthoff at stretches. He was far from perfect, but he continues to show that he’s improving on the defensive end of the floor.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal is pretty clearly Michigan’s best big man right now and he was aggressive on the offensive glass (4 offensive boards) and scored 8 points on seven shots. He had a few missed opportunities (3 turnovers), but his strong play to start the conference season has seemed to carry over in difficult games and even in losses.
- Moritz Wagner: After receiving a DNP against Maryland, Wagner was the first big man off the bench and scored 4 points on a pair of nice finishes around the hoop. Defensively, he’s still raw but it was a step in the right direction for the German big man.
- DJ Wilson: Wilson received playing time at the four against Iowa’s big front line and had a baseline dunk in the first half when Michigan started figuring out the Iowa defense. The lineup worked really well in the first half and actually spurred a run despite some confusion. It seems like a worthy tweak to work on over the next few weeks .
- Andrew Dakich: I was a bit surprised that Beilein went to Dakich in the second half to rest Walton and it might have been too much of a gamble. Overall Dakich is providing just enough to spell Walton, but it might be time to start looking at more minutes with Zak Irvin as the two, as Michigan did tonight.
- Ricky Doyle: Doyle only played two minutes and Michigan struggled while he was on the floor. He’s regressed steadily in the front court rotation and hasn’t given the coaching staff a reason to move him upward.