|Who: Iowa (20-9, 11-6 B1G) at Michigan (20-10, 10-7 B1G)|
|Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI|
|When: 8:00 p.m., March 5th, 2016|
|Radio: 950 AM, 102.9 FM|
When Michigan lost in Iowa City in mid-January, the Hawkeyes were one of the hottest teams in college basketball. Iowa had already swept Michigan State, had won at Purdue and would go on to put together a 10-1 start to conference play.
Then the wheels began to fall off in Bloomington. Iowa lost at Indiana and has now dropped five of its last six games. Now a team that once appeared to be a lock to win at least a share of the Big Ten in early February has plummeted out of the Big Ten Championship race. On paper, Iowa looks like a team searching for answers, but according to Fran McCaffery they’ve already turned things around.
“I think we already have,” McCaffery said after the loss at Indiana. “So I’m not worried about that at all. We played well, we lost to a really, really good team.”
This is a big game for Iowa as it tries to turn things around, but there’s even more importance for Michigan — which is desperate for a win to punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament.
Iowa is the second fastest team in the Big Ten, averaging 68 possessions per game, and manages to push the pace in games while avoiding turnovers. The Hawkeyes give the ball away on a league-best 14.6% of their offensive possessions. Iowa is scoring 1.11 points per trip, fourth best in the Big Ten, thanks to its league-leading ability to get to the free throw line (41.4% FTA/FGA).
Iowa’s recent run of poor form has been due to poor shooting. The Hawkeyes have fallen to 8th in the conference in eFG% at 50%, making just 46.7% of their twos (10th) and 37.7% of their threes (4th). Iowa has failed to top a 50% eFG% or 50% two-point shooting percentage in its last 5 games.
The Hawkeyes have a fairly average defense, allowing 1.02 points per possession in Big Ten play (6th). Over the last six games, Iowa has allowed 451 points in 403 possessions for an average of 1.11 points per trip. In its first 11 games, Iowa allowed 1.11 points per trip in just one game — its win over Michigan.
Iowa allows 49.8% two-point shooting (10th) despite boasting the 4th best shot blocking team. The Hawkeyes’ 48.9 eFG% allowed (6th) is helped by a great three-point defense (31.7% allowed). Iowa’s defense has also been prone on the glass, where it allows opponents to rebound 32.3% of their misses — second worst in the Big Ten.
Jarrod Uthoff is no longer the favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year, but he’s still a tough matchup for Michigan. At 6-foot-9, 221 pounds, Uthoff is a versatile scorer, shooter and has the uncanny ability to block jump shots. He’s tough to handle because he can post-up smaller players, isolate bigger players and shoot over just about anyone with his length. He scored 23 points on 20 shots in the first meeting and is a very difficult matchup for Michigan’s wings or bigs.
Iowa has the luxury of playing not one, but two senior point guards in Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons. Both guards are good passers who value the basketball, while Gesell will run a bit more of the offense.
Gesell isn’t a shooter as he’s just 7-of-21 from three-point range in Big Ten play and shooting 40.4% on twos, but he’s a sneaky athlete and a plus-defender. He’s also one of the best guards in the Big Ten at getting to the free throw line.
Clemmons isn’t a great shooter either (15-of-47 on Big Ten threes), but he’s a better scorer inside (52% on twos) and is also great at getting to the free throw line.
Junior Peter Jok has emerged as an All-Big Ten caliber scoring guard this season. Jok has made 45% of his Big Ten threes (5th) on 101 attempts and is one of the league’s best at shooting the ball off screens (other than Bryn Forbes). Jok also ranks second in the Big Ten in steal rate and is an elite transition scorer with a 64.2 eFG% in transition situations.
Adam Woodbury provides more traditional big man play, ranking 2nd in the league in offensive rebounding and third in defensive rebounding percentage and making 58% of his twos.
Off the bench, Iowa can rely on Dom Uhl as a more versatile pick-and-pop threat. The 6-foot-9 German sophomore is shooting 52% from three-point range in Big Ten play, but just 33% inside the arc. He had 10 critical points off the bench in the first meeting.
Nicholas Baer comes off the bench and usually finds a way to make an impact. He’s not a high usage player, but he’s efficient when called upon. Baer is shooting 72% on twos in Big Ten play and 37% on threes.
- Get ready for a shoot out? Iowa’s defense has regressed and Michigan scored the ball more efficiently than anyone else against the ‘good version’ of Iowa’s defense. Michigan’s offense has also sputtered at times of late, but with a week off and a home crowd this could be a chance to get back to the brand of offense that Michigan wants to play.
- Don’t foul: Iowa scored 22.7% of its points at the free throw line, more than any other team in the Big Ten. Michigan sends opponents to the free throw line less often than any team in the Big Ten. Given some of Iowa’s recent shooting struggles, keeping them off the line could help Michigan’s struggling defense come up with some extra stops.
- Transition defense: About a fifth of Iowa’s offensive possessions are in transition and the Hawkeyes grade out in the 90th percentile in transition offense, per Synergy. Michigan’s transition defense hasn’t been great and completely unraveled in home losses to Indiana and Michigan State. Considering that Iowa hung 82 points in 63 possessions in the first meeting, defensive improvement will be necessary.
Michigan actually led 52-51 midway through the second half of the first meeting, but was outscored 31-19 down the stretch. That’s been a familiar script for the Wolverines on the road this season and one they’ll hope they can flip-flop in Ann Arbor.
KenPom projects a narrow Iowa win, 76-75, giving Michigan a 48% chance at the upset.