After playing seven games against top-100 opponents in just 22 days, Michigan has only played 3 games — all against teams ranked 300th or worse — in the last 21 days. Now the Wolverines are ready to jump back into the grind of Big Ten play with a trip to Iowa City (7:00 p.m., ESPN2).
Carver Hawkeye Arena has been a house of horrors for Michigan in recent years. During John Beilein’s tenure at Michigan, the Wolverines have only won in Iowa City three times — in his first year and twice in overtime, most recently in 2011. Despite a poor road record against the Hawkeyes, the Wolverines are 7-3 against Iowa over the same time at home and neutral courts.
For the second year in a row, the Hawkeyes had a losing record in early December and the wheels appeared to be falling off. Iowa lost six of seven games at one point this fall including losses to Louisiana Lafayette, South Dakota State, Virginia Tech, Penn State, Indiana and Iowa State. Slowly but surely, Fran McCaffery’s team has dug itself out of its mess. The Hawkeyes have now won five in a row including solid wins over Drake and Colorado on neutral courts.
KenPom’s metrics still project the Hawkeyes to finish in one of the bottom three spots in the league at 6-12, but they are playing much better basketball than they were just a few weeks back.
Iowa checks in at 70th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 107th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. The Hawkeyes are one of the faster teams in the conference at 71.9 possessions per game (80th nationally). Iowa is also one of the bigger teams in the country — checking in at 6th nationally in average height — and Fran McCaffery continues to give a lot of minutes — 42.7% of available minutes — to his bench, 11th nationally.
Iowa’s offense wastes no time getting a shot up. The average Hawkeye offensive possession lasts just 15.4 seconds and the Hawkeyes are ranked in the top-50 nationally in effective field goal percentage and offensive rebounding rate. Turnovers have been an issue at times this season — on 19% of offensive possessions — but the Iowa offense has scored at least a point per possession in its last six games.
The Hawkeyes run more action off of screens than any team in the conference. A Big Ten leading 10.5 percent of Iowa’s offensive possessions are tagged as coming off of screens, per Synergy, and an impressive 67.6 percent of Iowa’s made field goals are assisted (3rd nationally).
Iowa isn’t a big ball screen team — just 10.6% of possessions — but it will attack aggressively in transition and by throwing the ball into the post. The Hawkeyes grade out in the 90th percentile nationally in post-up offense (including pass outs) and utilize almost 1 out of every 5 possessions on the low block.
Defensively, Iowa hasn’t been consistent and doesn’t seem to have an identity. The Hawkeyes play zone defense on 41.4% of their possessions and press on 12.2%. Their zone looks have been slightly better than their man-to-man — grading out in the 71st percentile versus 56th.
Iowa doesn’t force many turnovers and is just an average defensive rebounding team, but the Hawkeyes do a good job of keeping opponents off of the free throw line. The effective field goal percentage defensive numbers are solid at 47.7 eFG% allowed — 46.9% on twos and 32.7% on threes — but in all six losses Iowa allowed at least a point per possession. The Hawkeyes have also struggled against ball screens this year, grading out in just the 11th percentile nationally.
Iowa has one of the more intriguing combinations of interior players in the conference. 6-foot-9, 255 pound sophomore Tyler Cook is the interior presence. He shoots 63% on twos (and is just 1-of-5 on 3-point attempts) and is a force on both backboards. Cook gets to the free throw line consistently and is Iowa’s highest usage post-up scorer.
6-foot-11, 235 pound freshman Luka Garza has been a pleasant surprise. Garza is shooting 63% on twos and can even step out and hit a three (5-of-14 on the year). He’s Iowa’s best offensive and defensive rebounder and the 2nd most efficient post-up scorer in the Big Ten who has used at least 40 possessions.
Iowa’s quest to replace Peter Jok has landed squarely on the shoulders of sophomore guard Isaiah Moss. Moss is shooting 49% on twos and 37% on threes and leads the Big Ten in shot attempts off of screens where he has a 46.2 eFG%. Moss does a great job of moving without the ball and McCaffery’s set plays are able to create him open looks effectively.
Sophomore guard Jordan Bohannon and junior forward Nicholas Baer were pegged as breakout stars this year for the Hawkeyes. Both players have underwhelmed against their lofty preseason expectations. Bohannon is still a good shooter (42% career on 3-pointers), but he’s limited in his ability to score inside the arc and hasn’t quite elevated his game to where many expected.
Baer missed the first six games of the season with a finger injury and has struggled since returning. He’s a career 54% shooter inside the arc and 38% shooter from outside, but he’s shooting just 48% on twos and 25% on threes this year and has reached double figures just once.
6-foot-7 sophomore Maishe Dailey is a shooter to track off the bench. Dailey has been Iowa’s most efficient scorer and is shooting 48% on twos and 42% on threes with over half of his shot attempts originating behind the arc. Dailey provides reserve minutes behind Moss or Baer at the two or the three and packs an additional scoring punch.
6-foot-4 junior Brady Ellingson plays backup minutes at the point guard. He’s a perimeter shooting threat at 39% with twice as many 3-point attempts as 2-point attempts. Freshman guard Connor McCaffery was expected to battle for some of that time but he’s been struggling with mono and underwent a tonsillectomy last week.
6-foot-8, 240 pound sophomore Cordell Pemsl provides some extra muscle inside. Pemsl is not just a great reboudner, he’s also a capable passer for a big man. 6-foot-11, 225 pound freshman Jack Nunge can space the floor off the bench. He’s shooting 38% from three and is also an efficient finisher around the hoop.
- Defensive rebounding: Early season statistics show that Michigan is the best defensive rebounding team in the Big Ten and 13th best in the country. This is one of those games that will give us a glimpse as to whether that number is legitimate or a product of non-conference scheduling.
- Interior defense: Iowa features one of the league’s better post-up offenses (there are quite a few in this conference) and Michigan has the worst post-up defense. Expect the Hawkeyes to challenge Michigan on the low block and put a lot of pressure on Moritz Wagner and Jon Teske.
- Ball screen offense: Iowa’s offense is designed to attack some of Michigan’s defensive woes, but Michigan’s offense has the same luxury. No Big Ten team runs more ball screen offense than Michigan and Iowa is the worst ball screen defense in the Big Ten. The Wolverines will have to get Charles Matthews and Moritz Wagner involved in the two-man game early and often.
KenPom likes Michigan by a final score of 70-68, giving the Wolverines a 56% chance at the road win. This feels like a pivotal game for the Wolverines with a couple of difficult tests around the corner against Purdue and Michigan State next week. Michigan hasn’t been challenged in a couple of weeks and it will be very interesting to see how this team looks back on the road and whether any of that early December momentum can be carried over.