We’ve got a small card on tap for Friday, but it features some big matchups. Dayton will try to stave off a letdown at Saint Louis. Michigan State will try to take Wisconsin down a peg. And in our spotlight game for the day, the Iowa Hawkeyes host the Michigan Wolverines at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City in the nightcap of FS1’s Big Ten doubleheader.
It may come as a surprise to some to see that Iowa has the minus sign on the line, even though the Wolverines have a number next to their name as the 19th-ranked team in the country, but that is the case here. In fact, overnight money came in on the Hawkeyes to pop this number up to -4.5 and most of those have -115 juice attached. There has been some back-and-forth activity on the total, but most places are sitting 147.5.
How They’ve Gotten Here
Michigan is 11-5 on the season and has had some real head-scratching moments. The Wolverines were stunningly good in the early-season Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas with wins on consecutive days over Iowa State, North Carolina, and Gonzaga to improve to 7-0. Since then, the Wolverines are just 4-5, with blowout losses to Louisville and Michigan State, a one-point overtime loss at home to Oregon, and two additional defeats in conference play.
The loss to Illinois stands out the most, but it isn’t like the Wolverines have been losing to bad teams. In fact, per Bart Torvik’s ratings, the Wolverines haven’t lost to a team outside the top 35.
This is actually a rematch game between Michigan and Iowa played back on December 6 in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines won that game 103-91 and it was a spirited affair with those 194 points and 74 possessions, the third-most in an Iowa game this season. That game is one of five losses for the Hawkeyes, who are 3-3 in conference play.
Iowa has not lost on its home floor since the second game of the season against DePaul. That isn’t the only bad loss, however, as the Hawkeyes recently got beaten by Nebraska in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers are arguably the worst team in a loaded Big Ten this season and that losing effort could loom large down the line for seeding in the Big Ten Tournament.
With one of the toughest schedules in the country to date, it isn’t a big surprise to see that Michigan grades well in the adjusted efficiency metrics. The Wolverines are 22nd in adjusted offensive efficiency per Bart Torvik and 49th in adjusted defensive efficiency. The grand poobah of college hoops, Ken Pomeroy, has Michigan 20th and 40th, respectively, in those departments.
KenPom also notes that the Wolverines have played the sixth-toughest schedule and have faced the #1 slate of opposing offenses. Iowa is another top-five offense with which the Wolverines have to contend. At least according to KenPom, who actually has Iowa four spots higher than Michigan overall with the fourth-ranked offense and the 75th-ranked defense. Iowa is down for the 10th-highest strength of schedule.
This is one instance where Torvik agrees, as Iowa is fourth in adjusted offensive efficiency there and 76th in adjusted defensive efficiency.
A big reason why these two teams are laggards on the defensive side is that they don’t force a lot of turnovers and rate around average in defensive rebounding. Michigan is 320th nationally in TO% on defense at 16.5%. Iowa is better at 18.9%, but that ranks 191st. Neither team is great on the defensive glass, but Iowa ranks just inside the top 40 in ORB%, so that will be a tough thing for Michigan to deal with.
Three-balls could be tough to come by tonight. Michigan ranks 27th nationally in defending the 3 at 29% and keep in mind that they have played the hardest schedule of opposing offenses per KenPom. Iowa is 68th nationally in defending the perimeter, as opponents have shot 30.4%. Michigan is 1% better on offense from beyond the arc at 36.3% than Iowa and 26 spots higher in national rank. The Wolverines are also 12th in 2P%, while the Hawkeyes are 95th.
One huge defensive difference between the two isn’t anybody’s fault, but we could see some regression for both squads. It is kind of amazing to think that Michigan has faced the nation’s toughest schedule on defense, but opponents have only shot 64.7% from the free throw line. That is 18th best nationally. Iowa, on the other hand, has seen opponents take advantage of 72.6% of their free throw chances. That ranks 280th nationally. We’re likely to see Michigan’s FT% against go up and Iowa’s go down.
The Difference Makers
Luke Garza would get some votes as the best player in the Big Ten. He’s shooting nearly 60% on his two-point shots and will be the primary focus for every opponent the rest of the way, particularly with Jordan Bohannon out for the season. Freshman guard CJ Fredrick has been in and out of the lineup. He had 11 points in 31 minutes against Northwestern last time out, but missed the previous two games. Fredrick is shooting 49% from 3. He and sophomore Joe Wieskamp are the guys that open up the interior for Garza.
Michigan has a key injury of its own in Isaiah Livers, who has missed the last four games. He had three games with 20+ points in the non-conference and averages 13.6 per game for the season. That puts more emphasis on Zavier Simpson, who has 41 points in his last two games, and also senior Jon Teske, who was held under double figures for the third time this season in the most recent game against Minnesota. Michigan is 1-2 in those games, but the one win came over Houston Baptist.
Under 147.5 is the play here. The first game featured 47 points at the free throw line and a lot of stunningly good shooting. Michigan will have to adjust to Garza, who had 44 points in the first meeting. This total looks to be a touch inflated based on the first matchup, which featured 74 possessions. This one projects to play slower than that.