Game 18: Iowa at Michigan Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: No. 10 Iowa (15-3, 4-1 B1G) at No. 22 Michigan (13-4, 5-0 B1G) images[1]
Where: Crisler Center (Ann Arbor, MII)
When: 7:00 p.m., Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014
Radio: MGoBlue, 950 AM, 102.9 FM, 91 Sirius/XM
More: First Look | Iowa presents unique challenges | Video

Iowa has almost the same roster it had last season, but the results are vastly improved. You might remember last year’s Hawkeyes. They were a good team, but they couldn’t beat any great ones, even at home. Their only game against Michigan was 95-67 drubbing in Ann Arbor at a time when the Wolverines were surging toward the No. 1 ranking and Iowa was crashing back to earth early in Big Ten play.

The Hawkeyes built off last year’s NIT run and are  ranked in the top ten for the first time since 2002. They finally picked up that quality win, at Ohio State, that they couldn’t get last year and have only lost to Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin – all at road or neutral sites.

Iowa has more talent than it knows what to do with, runs the court, and crashes the glass. While the recognition might not have been there in the preseason, the Hawkeyes are without question a contender for the Big Ten Championship.

Devyn-Marble-2[1]The Hawkeyes

Iowa is the No. 5 ranked team in Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, featuring the third most efficient offense, 28th most efficient defense and 13th fastest tempo. Iowa hasn’t played a Big Ten game slower than 70 possessions, Michigan has played just one conference game faster than 61 possessions – its 68 possession win at Wisconsin.

The Hawkeyes are fairly balanced offensively, ranked 58th or better on the season, and fourth or better in conference play, in all four of the four factors this season. Iowa shoots 49.5% (5th) on twos, 40.3% on threes (1st) for a 52.1% effective field goal percentage (3rd) in Big Ten games. Those are solid shooting numbers, but it should be noted that just 24% of Iowa’s field goal attempts are threes, the fewest in the conference. Iowa rebounds over 35% of its missed shots and is one of the league’s elite offensive rebounding teams. The Hawkeyes crash the glass hard and have frontcourt loaded with aggressive offensive rebounders.

Iowa gets to the free throw line more often than any Big Ten team, attempting 57.6 free throws per 100 field goal attempts. But while free throws are Iowa’s strength on the offensive side of the ball, they’ve been the Hawkeyes downfall on defense.

Luke Winn introduced a concept called ‘3-point gapping’ in his recent power rankings. Showing how Wisconsin racks up more 3-point attempts than its opponents by taking so many, and preventing so many 3-point opportunities. With Iowa, it’s all about the free throw gap. When Iowa gets to the free throw line more often than its opponents, it wins. When its opponents win the free throw gap, the Hawkeyes generally come up on the losing end.


The graph shows that the three games where Iowa lost the free throw battle by a decisive margin were also three games that it lost this year. All three of those teams were able to get to the free throw line often – with free throw rates above 47% – and Villanova and Iowa State did the best job of keeping the Hawkeyes off the charity stripe of anyone this season.

The rest of Iowa’s defensive profile is solid. Big Ten opponents are shooting 42.7% on twos (2nd) and 31.7% on threes (6th) in conference play for a 44.4% effective field goal percentage – second best in the league. Iowa’s length and size yield an effective defense at the basket, but also a defense that can defend 2-point jumpers. Hawkeye opponents are shooting just 29.6% on two-point jumpers, 30th nationally. The Hawkeyes are solid on the defensive glass and force turnovers on 19% of Big Ten opponents’ possessions, third best in the league.


Iowa’s personnel can be broken down into three categories: guards, jumbo wings, and big men.

Roy Devyn Marble leads the Big Ten in scoring at 19 points per game (B1G) and he uses 28% of Iowa’s offensive possessions. Marble isn’t the most efficient player but he’s improved every season at Iowa. He’s shooting 44% on twos, 37% on threes and is turning the ball over less often than any point in his career, he also shoots  a free throw for every two field goal attempts. Marble hit three triples in the first 2:05 of the second half against Minnesota, turning a Minnesota lead into an Iowa blowout.

Mike Gesell is a good passer and can run the offense, but most of his scoring comes via the jumpshot rather than attacking the basket. 6-foot-5 guard Josh Oglesby is another shooter off the bench that knocked down 5-of-7 triples against Minnesota, but missed most of the start of the season.

The ‘jumbo wing’ contingent features Aaron White, Jarrod Uthoff and Zach McCabe. Uthoff shoots 57% on twos and 52% on threes while White shoots a ridiculous 69% on twos and 33% on threes. White is one of the most underrated players in the conference and he can play in transition, with his back to the basket, or facing up and attacking in the half court. McCabe is more of a glue guy and hustle player that shoots 42% on twos and 35% on threes.

Down low, Iowa rotates through a stable of big men that includes Adam Woodbury, Melsahn Basabe and Gabriel Olaseni. Woodbury starts but has only played more than 20 minutes in a game once this season. Olaseni and Basabe are big weapons on the offensive glass. Woodbury and Basabe are the primary threats posting up as Olaseni is 0-of-10 on post up attempts this season.


There are three statistics that will tell the story when this game is finished.

  • Transition points: This stat isn’t kept very well in the traditional box score, but Michigan’s ability to a) limit Iowa’s transition opportunities or b) exploit transition opportunities the opposite direction, will be decisive. The Wolverines have the ability to be very effective in transition with Glenn Robinson III finishing at the rim and Nik Stauskas knocking down threes on the secondary break. However, the Wolverines haven’t really stopped anyone that’s made it a point to run the ball aggressively.
  • Michigan’s defensive rebounding percentage: Michigan needs to limit Iowa’s opportunities for second chances. Michigan’s defensive rebounding has been good overall, but was exploited in two its losses against Charlotte and Arizona. Iowa is a great offensive rebounding team and Beilein stressed how much harder it can be to box out in transition.
  • Free throw rate: Michigan is the second best team in the country at not fouling and Iowa gets to the line more often than anyone in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are playing at home, which should provide an advantage, but their ability to avoid fouling will be tested.

Bottom Line

Ken Pomeroy gives Michigan a 58% chance at victory, projecting a 78-76 Wolverine victory.  Pomeroy’s FanMatch system rates the Michigan-Iowa as the most appealing game to watch for the rest of the season.

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  • gobluemd16

    I think our record at the top should be 13-4, not 14-4 (although I hope that’s what our record is after tonight). Does FanMatch rate this game the most appealing Michigan game to watch the rest of the year, or any game in any conference?

    • Whoops, I always manage to botch that section.

      Any game in the country.

  • Hops

    This should be a fun one with a lot of offense. Iowa is loaded.

  • Mattski

    Hit threes. Find Morgan and Horford underneath. Get to the free throw line. Make ’em.

  • UMHoopsFan

    Great write up. I think there’s a “fifth” missing in the first sentence of The Hawkeyes section. Kenpom likes Iowa a ton but not quite the most of everyone. I have a feeling that defensive rebound percentage will be extremely important in this one.

  • Hawkeye23

    Iowa fan here, who just found this site today, and I just wanted to say how impressed I was with the analysis on here. This site goes way beyond the typical tempo free analysis you see on most fan sites. I’m definitely jealous that you guys have a site like this.

    As for the game tonight, It should be a very exciting game, two really good offenses battling it out. I’m a big fan of Stauskas, love his game and he seems to have really evolved as an all around player this year.

    It’s an exciting stretch for both teams between tonight’s game, Michigan-MSU this weekend, then MSU-Iowa next Tuesday. The B10 title picture may be a lot clearer at this time next week.

    • kam

      it should be a good game!

    • gobluemd16

      We feel fortunate to have this level of analysis, too!

  • guest

    Dylan, what’s your thought on the FT gap in regards to despearation fouls? A team that is winning late will get fouled more, creating a disproportional FT gap. It’s kinda like a chicken and egg situation, were those teams winning because they were getting to the line more or did they get to the line more because they were winning?

    • That’s always an issue with free throw statistics, but there are a lot of really good teams that still have low free throw rates.

      I didn’t go back and look at those three games that Iowa lost to see if there was a lot of late-game fouling (they were all close so it’s possible).

      Just a tough thing to really account for. Bottom line: Iowa gets to the free throw line a lot, sometimes they foul a bit too much.

  • kam

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say if UM scores 100 or more they have a good chance to win BUT if they don’t score over 45 they have a very slim chance at winning! GO BLUE!

    • Mattski

      In a similar vein I can add that when we have four guys in double figures we almost always win.

  • Tony

    Can’t wait for this one. Michigan is 40-3 at home the last 3 seasons with 1 loss each year (Purdue in 11, Indiana in 12, Arizona in 13).

  • Kenny

    Dylan, wonder what we can learn from Nebraska who managed to hold Iowa to season low 67 points.

    • kam

      SEASON low of 67… They score a lot.. but it seems even though they score a lot, teams always score a lot on them too!

      • Kenny

        But it is Nebraska, not a strong defensive team, playing at Iowa. They must have done something right. I saw 10 steals and 17 offensive rebound by Nebraska on the stat sheet, but cannot tell if this is the whole story. I guess that we can be a little bit more aggressive to attempt the steals, given the home court advantage.

        • Tim

          Iowa fan here. Nebraska game was effectively Iowa’s first game in 18 days. Techinically, they played Ark-Pine Bluff 9 days earlier, but Iowa was up 52-15 at halftime of that game and didn’t play Marble or White in the 2nd half. Which is to say that Iowa was rusty and that’s how Nebraska was able to keep it relatively close.

  • guestavo

    We won’t have problems scoring against Iowa. I say that because Wisconsin didn’t and we are similar, if not more versatile. We DO need to defensive rebound. Horford/ Morgan are our most important players this game. GR3 is too good to be having these 0 rebound games. I guess Caris being a good rebounding guard kind of alleviates that hole in GR3’s game.

    • kam

      OSU scored 74 on iowa lol

  • rlcBlue

    Walton’s decision making will be very important for us. I fear that Iowa’s P&R defense will seriously impact our half-court offense, making an effective transition offense that much more important.

    Walton will be the fastest man on the court and potentially a big weapon on the break, but he has to limit his turnovers and finish his shots. If he pushes too much, the game will turn into a track meet and Iowa will kill us. If he pushes too little, we’ll miss out on opportunities to score. It will be a big test of how well his game is progressing.

    Of course it would also help if we can knock down three pointers, and Walton can be a big part of that, too, but if he finishes with 6 or more assists and 3 or fewer turnovers, I don’t think it matters how well he shoots from deep.

    • guestavo

      I don’t think Walton will have the ball in his hands very much for the rest of the season. Nik and Caris have seemed to transplant him and he seems to be working off the ball.

      • rlcBlue

        I think what we see in the half court sets and what we see on the break are two entirely different matters. In the half court Stauskas and LeVert are handling the ball on ball screens – they have a better feel for it than Walton and they can pass over the top of small guards. Iowa does not have small guards. On the break the outlet pass will usually go to whichever guard is available, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s more effective to have Walton in the middle and Stauskas/LeVert on the wing than vice versa.

        • guestavo

          I notice that Glenn and Caris often board and initiate the break rather than passing off to Walton. Caris can be a streak shooter so not sure Walton spotting up for three isn’t better.

  • Will

    Dylan or anyone, who are our biggest potential commits for the 2015 class