It seems like eons ago that the Michigan men’s basketball team traveled to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Wolverines shot the lights out in the first half on Jan. 2 to get out to a huge lead against Iowa that they would never relinquish.
The game involved breakout performances on both sides of the court and lackluster outputs from typically good players that eventually led to Michigan’s 75-68 victory.
The Daily breaks down what led to the Wolverines’ win and what could go wrong this Wednesday to flip the outcome when the Hawkeyes come to Ann Arbor.
As previously referenced, the Wolverines were just about unconscious in Iowa City, especially in the first half.
Michigan went 11-for-25 from beyond the arc and 8-for-15 in the opening 20 minutes.
The Wolverines led by as many as 18 points in the first half and had a double-digit cushion for over eight minutes in the period.
Even when Iowa pushed back at the 5:03 mark with a pair of Tyler Cook free throws to cut it to eight, Michigan quickly answered with a 7-0 spurt started by a 3-pointer from fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson.
In all, it led to a 48-point first half — the third-most the Wolverines have scored in any opening period, and the most they’ve scored in Big Ten play.
Recently, Michigan has struggled to replicate that shooting. Save two good outings against Purdue and Sunday’s against Wisconsin, the Wolverine offense has looked far less potent of late.
Granted, the Hawkeye defense is vulnerable against opponents who aren’t sharpshooters — they have the worst scoring defense in the Big Ten — but if Michigan wants to replicate its exact gameplan Wednesday, it will have to prove Sunday’s shooting was not a mirage.
Livers and Simpson break out
The first game came at a time when junior forward Moritz Wagner — the Wolverines’ leading scorer — was hampered by a foot injury he suffered against Texas. It was clear that Wagner wasn’t back to his usual self against the Hawkeyes, as he scored just four points and played eight less minutes than his backup, sophomore Jon Teske.
In his place, Michigan enjoyed an even scoring output from redshirt sophomore forward Charles Matthews and senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. However, it also got 13 and 15 points, respectively, from freshman forward Isaiah Livers and sophomore guard Zavier Simpson off the bench.
Livers made an impact immediately after stepping on the court. On his first play, he tipped a missed free throw to Teske, then assisted Teske for a mid-range jumper to tie the score at 10. Just over a minute later, he caught a lob from Abdur-Rahkman in transition and threw it down for his first points.
The 13 points remain Livers’ career high, and the performance was a leaping-off point that eventually led him to break into the starting lineup.
Simpson’s point total tied his career high too, but where he made his money — as he’s done all season — was on the defensive end. Michigan coach John Beilein and his staff harped on the Wolverines that they needed to stop Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon.
The sophomore admitted after the game that his coaches’ words motivated him to shut down Bohannon. The Hawkeyes’ second-leading scorer was limited to 12 points on the night and just three in the second half. Simpson was mostly responsible, as he played 32 minutes.
For him, too, the game propelled him into the starting lineup. In the Wolverines’ next game against Illinois, Simpson took over for freshman Eli Brooks at the point guard spot, a position he has yet to relinquish.
But again, things have changed since then. Though Simpson previously led Michigan in 3-point shooting, he hit a cold streak, going 1-for-15 from deep in the last four games.
Livers, on the other hand, might not even play tomorrow. He suffered a left ankle injury against Northwestern and sat out Sunday against the Badgers.
Beilein said in Tuesday’s press conference that he’s “hopeful” Livers will return in tomorrow’s game. But even if Livers does come back, it’s unclear in what capacity that will be. At any rate, it’s unlikely he will be able to perform at the same level he did in the first Iowa game.
While Simpson did an admirable job limiting Bohannon, the Hawkeyes still found offensive success with forward Tyler Cook. The sophomore opened the game by putting Wagner in a blender with a behind-the-back dribble and throwing down an emphatic two-handed slam.
It was an accurate precursor for what was to come.
Cook dunked on Wagner, he dunked on Livers and he dunked on Teske en route to 28 points. He has become Iowa’s leading scorer this season, averaging over 15 points per game.
In January, the Wolverines couldn’t stop Cook. Since, they’ve struggled to stop multiple other big men in conference play, like Purdue’s Isaac Haas and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ.
Sure, Wagner’s healthy this time around, but even that hasn’t helped against skilled post players this season.
Cook’s big night wasn’t enough to turn the tides in favor of the Hawkeyes back then, but if he has a similar night Wednesday, and Bohannon proves Beilein right, Michigan could have its hands full defensively.