By Miles Klotz
Iowa City, Iowa – The Iowa men’s basketball team ended 2017 on a roll, winning five straight games. Their first test of 2018 will be a little bit harder.
The Hawkeyes (9-6, 0-2 Big Ten) will welcome Michigan to Carver-Hawkeye Arena Tuesday night for a 6 PM tip. The Wolverines (12-3, 1-1 Big Ten) also carry a five game winning streak into Iowa City, but unlike the Hawkeyes, they’ve actually played some decent teams in that stretch. Michigan, at #33 in Ken Pomeroy’s advanced college basketball analytic rankings, is the best team Iowa has seen this season.
Michigan owns a road win over likely NCAA tournament team Texas, and destroyed an Indiana team that Iowa was not competitive against. Their only three losses are to Power 5 teams, and all of them were road or neutral tilts. The Wolverines are 1-1 in conference, with the Indiana victory being followed by a road loss to Ohio State.
Last season, Iowa beat Michigan in their first game of the 2017 calendar year at home, riding 25 points from Peter Jok to an overtime victory. The Wolverines would wind up winning the Big Ten Tournament and making the Sweet Sixteen that March, but both teams have seen a whirl of change in that time.
Zak Irvin has graduated, and D.J. Wilson (17th overall) and Derrick Walton (undrafted) are in the NBA. Michigan seemingly got a big boost with the return of stretch four Moritz Wagner, but the German has not elevated his game this season. Instead, Michigan has gotten breakout years from Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews, and seniors Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman. Those three have been the catalysts of a balanced Wolverine attack.
It will be a clash of styles in Iowa City, as the Hawkeyes tend to run at a pretty fast tempo (81st at KenPom), while Michigan is one of the slowest teams in the country on offense (8th-slowest in the nation). Michigan relies on three-pointers (and shoots at a pretty solid clip), and rarely gets to the free throw line – they shoot free throws less than all but five teams in the country. An Iowa team that frequently struggles with foul trouble (and a coach that loves to yank players early for fouls) will appreciate this.
Matthews, Robinson, and Abdur-Rahkman all range from 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-8 and are athletic, a profile that does not fit what Hawkeye defenders are good at defending against. Nicolas Baer still doesn’t seem back to 100% on the defensive end, but he could be entrusted quite a bit more against that lengthy trio. Tyler Cook should be able to do work in the paint against 7-foot-1 Jon Teske, who really doesn’t add much besides his height.
Zavier Simpson is a pretty impressive point guard for the Wolverines – he doesn’t score much, but he’s a really good passer who rarely turns the ball over. Jordan Bohannon has still yet to take that next step as an on-ball defender (or a scorer, too, for that matter), and Simpson’s craftiness will be a test for him. The game as a whole will be a test for an Iowa team that hasn’t been tested over its winning streak. Luka Garza has been playing great, as has Maishe Dailey, but neither has ever proven themselves against a quality opponent.
Prediction: Michigan wins, 72-65. Iowa is playing confident right now, and that might lead to a victory, but the length and athleticism of Michigan is a bit too much.