IOWA CITY — Though the final score was ugly, the Michigan basketball team’s 82-71 loss to No. 16 Iowa was for the most part a really good game. Both teams went on runs, made highlight plays and looked poised to contend in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament.
Eventually, the Hawkeyes (6-0 Big Ten, 15-3 overall) used a stingy defense and balanced offense to pull away late to win in front of its home crowd. From the Wolverines rocky start, to the smooth play in the middle to the defenseless end, here are our five key plays from Iowa City.
1) Passing, post presence pulls Michigan back into the game
Traveling to a sold-out road game and taking on arguably the best team in the Big Ten, Michigan got off to the worst start imaginable — shooting 0-for-6 from the field and falling behind, 11-0 in the opening minutes of play.
But the Wolverines responded to Iowa’s stingy zone with stronger passing, and put both freshman forward Moritz Wagner and redshirt freshman forward D.J. Wilson in the game, and the efforts resulted in a 13-0 run and a 21-20 lead just over midway through the first half — mere minutes after looking dead in the water.
“We tried to get a bigger hand up on a few guys, and then they ended up going with five shooters out there,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of the personnel changes. “We’re just trying to find ways to get D.J. on the floor, … We wanted to get him some exposure out there. I hope he can turn the corner — he’s a heck of a player.”
The two-big lineup worked. And though Michigan only made two 3-pointers in the first half, it kept itself in the game thanks to its ability to create easy chances around the rim via backcuts and smart movement.
2) Bad switches stall Michigan’s surge
Just after the Wolverines went on a 13-0 run, turnovers and defensive miscues put the game back in the Hawkeyes’ hands. Some of the most notable miscues were the two bad switches late in the first half, where Iowa’s balanced offense and strong chemistry (it has four senior starters, more than any other team in the conference) came to fruition.
These were simple mistakes that Michigan shouldn’t make and junior wing Zak Irvin was involved in both. First Irvin and Duncan Robinson both chase Peter Jok and leave Adam Woodbury wide open cutting to the hoop, a couple of minutes later Aubrey Dawkins and Irvin make the same mistake.
“They’ve got some things a lot of teams would love to have,” Beilein said. “They were a better team than us tonight without question. We fought hard, but we had three really bad spurts in the game … we just made mistakes.”
When you play on the road, these type of mistakes game by devastating and the Wolverines learned that the hard way. The Hawkeyes outscored Michigan, 13-5 in the waning moments of the first half, ending Michigan’s much-needed surge.
3) Wolverines click offensively
Michigan struggled breaking Iowa’s extended zone in the first half, but exploded on a 16-7 run to regain the lead out of the gate. Michigan began to knock down threes, and completely took over the game.
And one of the orchestrators of it all was junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. Though his numbers weren’t enough to steal a win at Iowa, he did showcase an ability to lead the team today and down the road. Behind Walton, Michigan assisted on 18 of its 25 field goals, well above its season assist rate.
“I’m just realizing this right now,” Beilein said, “that last year he didn’t have what Spike had when LeVert went down, this ‘Alright, I’m going to run this team, this is my job for the time being.’ Now he’s doing it.”
The hot start to the second half gave Michigan a narrow lead, but the momentum was short-lived, as a slew of Michigan turnovers gave Iowa the lead moments later.
4) Michigan refuses to go away
After Michigan opened the second half with plenty of offensive firepower, it completely sputtered, and the Wolverines only managed one basket over a seven-minute stretch. By the time the slump ended, Iowa was dangerously close to ending the game.
But behind inspired play by Walton and sophomore wing Aubrey Dawkins, the Wolverines kept Michigan’s chances alive.
“When you play Michigan,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, “the way they execute their offense, the way they move the ball and the multiple 3-point shooters that they have, they’re never out of the game.”
Walton and Dawkins both hit three-pointers that cut the Iowa lead to two possessions in the final four minutes and they combined to hit 6 of Michigan’s 8 second half three-pointers.
5) Jok, Uthoff provide the dagger
Michigan managed to hang in the game late due to timely three-point shooting, but Iowa’s star players had the answers.
After Walton hit the previous three-pointer to cut the lead to five, Peter Jok answered with a big time shot. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman gets caught helping down on the pick-and-roll for just a split second too long as Jok drifts to the corner. Even with Abdur-Rahkman’s contest, Jok — the Big Ten Player of the Week — drained the triple.
Michigan lived by its pass-happy offense, but died by its costly turnovers.
Coughing the ball up 13 times — four more than its season average — and surrendered 16 points off the giveaways.
It was fitting the Jarrod Uthoff’s decisive basket to extend the lead to 10 came off of a steal on the other end of the floor. On this play, Aubrey Dawkins falls asleep for a split second and loses track of Uthoff, who frees himself off of a screen and knocks in a wide open baseline jumper.
There were plenty of areas for improvement for Beilein’s team, but the Wolverines know that Iowa is one of the best teams in the Big Ten, and understand the learning curve will need to occur away from Iowa City.
“These are all things we want to grow in, but it’s tough,” Beilein said. “It’s tough to do on the road against a good team.”