Well-rested Michigan faces must-win game against Iowa

Zach Shaw

With the days growing longer and classes put on hold, Spring Break provides college students with a chance to reflect, re-energize and renew their senses of purpose.

Not every college student seizes such an opportunity, but the Michigan basketball team doesn’t have much of a choice. Sitting squarely on the bubble, the Wolverines (10-7 Big Ten, 20-10 overall) need a win over No. 16 Iowa on Saturday to ensure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

So with its most off days between games since December, no classes and one last chance to punch its ticket, Michigan looked inward, and hopes to emerge a better team against the visiting Hawkeyes.

“We’ve had time this week to catch our breath and get ourselves and try to fix what we can fix in a short period of time,” said Michigan coach John Beilein of the extra time. “It’s been good just for us to step back.”

Included in the reflection was extended film sessions on Iowa. The Hawkeyes (11-6, 20-9) look like a different team on paper — losing five of their last six games — but still start four seniors and carry many of the same characteristics that allowed them to beat the Wolverines, 82-71 on Jan. 17.

Michigan showed flashes of good play in Iowa City in January, but needs more to hang with Iowa again.

“With this particular group, for whatever reason, the learning curve is very slow, so having this extra time should help,” Beilein said. “(But) what Iowa does, Iowa does with a really good, veteran team. It’s going to be tough to stop them. It’s going to be tough to score on them.”

Fortunately for the Wolverines, there is still plenty at stake on Saturday. Michigan will have a chance to earn a tournament bid in next week’s Big Ten Tournament, but knows it must do everything it can to seal the deal in the regular season and avoid its fourth loss in five games.

Even without seniors on the floor, Beilein said he felt the Wolverines are taking ownership of what’s at stake, and used Spring Break as a potential springboard toward the end of the season.

“We know how important this game is,” said junior forward Zak Irvin. “If we win this, we pretty much have a spot in the NCAA Tournament.”

Added junior guard Derrick Walton Jr.: “This is the best part of the year. You don’t want to look back going into next year and years down the stretch that we didn’t give it our all to give ourselves an opportunity to be where we should be.

“Take this one for what it’s worth, really buy into it and give everything you’ve got into it.”

Going 3-5 in February to fall from Big Ten contender to bubble team, Michigan saw its shooting, ball control, transition game and defense all decline in effectiveness.

But with a break from the typical workload and a light at the end of the tunnel, the Wolverines should enter Saturday’s matchup as prepared and motivated as they can be.

“It’s all-go against Iowa,” Beilein said with a grin Friday. “I’m no bracketologist or follow the bubble like I once did. All I know is this has to be an extremely important game for us if we want to keep our postseason hopes alive.”

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  • AA7596

    Interesting quote about the learning curve.

    There’s been a lot of talk on the boards about the injuries, and they’ve obviously hurt, but I’m not sure how even the staunchest loyalist can be OK with how the team is developing. Beilein isn’t, judging by that comment.

    • Beilein has made that comment a few times over the last year or so. The injuries obviously play apart because the two guys who don’t really have a learning curve and have been through it all and know it all… are sitting and watching.

      It’s pretty crazy that Michigan only has 2 guys who played on that Elite 8 team two years ago.

      Such a huge game today and I can honestly say I don’t really have an idea of what to expect.

      • Alex

        Turning point in the program? Could very well be. Somebody fly Zack Novak into Crisler and get him a seat on the bench. Only partially joking.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    big gam, looking forward to it..,win or lose – i want to see us give it there best….if we get blown out like MichState/Indiana….we do not deserve a NCAA tourny bid…Vegas has us as a sligh -1.5 favorites….should be a close 1…i expect us to get a win!….at home, Iowa struggling…our players have to be motivated for this 1…i expect big games from Walton/Irvin…an NCAA tourny bid is a SUCCESSFUL season considering injuries, player development…GO BLUE!

  • Chillax

    Man, I don’t feel good. It’s never good when you feel like you are counting down the clock until a game versus looking forward to the game. Either way it’s been a fun season watching everyone develop, especially Donnel (he’s reminding me a lot of Morgan and I hope he stacks on some muscle over the summer). I wonder if some of those early games go the other way with his progress. Upset (sometimes even mad) about Levert and Spike, but that’s obviously not there fault. Cheer’s to everyone who stuck through last season…and here’s to making the tourney this year. I know we can do it. Play like you’ve got nothing to lose is easy….play like you’ve got everything to lose is the team you should be scared of.

  • Wayman Britt

    Need strong game from the bench and just like every game the last two years, Michigan needs the defense to show. Play average defense should get a win give up 50 percent shooting then trouble.

  • A2MIKE

    As someone old enough to remember the 20 years between the fab 5 and beilein, all I have to say is 2 things. This team will play the toughest, grittiest game they have played all year, guaranteed. That is a testament to coach B, because I can remember playing games like this under amaker and we would fold like a cheap suitcase. Second, go blue and be loud tonight.

    • Wayman Britt

      Yes, TA was terrible. His teams always under performed and game management skills were poor.