Iowa City, Iowa – Things haven’t changed a whole lot since Iowa and Michigan last squared off on the hardwood.
That was back on January 2, when the Wolverines snapped a five game losing streak against the Hawkeyes with a 75-68 victory in Iowa City. That win moved the Wolverines to 2-1 in the Big Ten, and dropped Iowa to 0-3.
Five and a half weeks later, Michigan, at 9-5 in the Big Ten, is just as close to the top of the conference as they were before. And Iowa, at 3-11, is no longer dead last, but they are pretty close. Wednesday’s game in Ann Arbor will present a big challenge for the Hawkeyes, losers of four of their last five. Michigan has only one loss at home this season, by one-point to Purdue.
The game just after New Year’s ended in a Michigan victory, but the statline shows a game that could have gone either way, with rebounds, turnovers, and shooting percentages sitting pretty much even. However, it never felt at any point in that game, especially in the second half, that the Hawkeyes had a chance of pulling out a victory. Michigan’s size and athleticism was just too much.
Zavier Simpson in particular had a field day in one of his best games of the season, making easy work of Jordan Bohannon off the dribble and scoring 15 points off the bench with seven assists. Muhammad-Ali Abdul-Rahkman hit three three-pointers and added seven rebounds and six assists, while Charles Matthews added 14 points and 7 boards himself.
The Hawkeyes got lucky that Michigan’s two starting big men, Duncan Robinson and Moritz Wagner, had off nights. The frontcourt duo had just nine points, a far cry from their combined average of 23 points per game. With a home crowd behind them on Wednesday, their point totals should crawl back towards the mean. In addition, crafty freshman Isaiah Livers had one of his best games of the season against the Hawkeye defense (which has not gotten any better since the first meeting). John Beilein may choose to play Livers, who plays just over 15 minutes per game, more on Wednesday.
Iowa will have to combat the Wolverines’ slow tempo, one of the ten slowest in the country. Tyler Cook had a field day against Michigan in the last meeting, with 28 points on 10 of 15 shooting and 8 of 11 from the free throw line, but got next to no help from his teammates, and will now have to go up against Robinson and Wagner for an entire game, instead of the undersized Livers.
Prediction: Michigan wins, 84-67. Michigan has one of the best home-court advantages in the country and has been playing well as of late. Iowa has been consistently awful in Big Ten road games. This one may not be close.