IOWA CITY — First came Isaiah Livers. It was 81 seconds into Friday’s game, and junior center Jon Teske had picked up a foul. John Beilein, in turn, went to the sophomore, his most reliable backup center option to date.
Less than two minutes later, after Livers picked up a foul of his own, it was Brandon Johns’ turn. Five minutes after that, with Michigan looking sluggish, Beilein went back to Teske.
In just six seconds, he got whistled for his second foul, and that’s when things went from bad to worse.
“You don’t have a 7-(foot)-1, 260-(pound) guy standing in the paint,” Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp would say two hours later. “Obviously they have (Austin) Davis that comes in off the bench, but he’s not Teske.”
Davis was in just five minutes, a span over which the Hawkeyes attacked him, then attacked him some more — finding repeated success. But he wasn’t the only person that faltered while Teske sat.
So did Livers, and Johns, and Colin Castleton.
Get Jon Teske in foul trouble, it turns out, is how you get the Wolverines to file off the court, heads hung low, backs turned to a sea of students flowing from their seats to the court. Iowa 74, Michigan 59 was the reason for their jubilation and Teske — or the lack thereof — was the reason for the score.
Without him, the Hawkeyes feasted, turning a defense that came into Iowa City ranked first in the nation into one befitting of a Beilein team of old. They scored 22 times in the paint in the first 20 minutes, grabbing 26 rebounds to Michigan’s 12. For 19 of those minutes, Teske sat on the bench, watching the margin climb, and with 2:26 to go in the half, Beilein proverbially threw up his hands and sent Castleton onto the floor.
The freshman checked in with the Wolverines down 13 — getting outplayed front to back — and the Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd hungering for more. It was his first meaningful action of the season, in a far-from-ideal scenario for a freshman still adapting to the college game.
The reason why it happened, seemingly, had more to do with everybody else.
“We needed something,” Beilein said. “The guys that come off the bench have to understand there's a certain speed you need to play with, effort you need to play with. When they don't do that, we've got to go further down the bench.”
It’s easy to forget Jon Teske when he’s merely a cog in the system. The Hawkeyes came into Friday with a goal of getting him into foul trouble, and forcing him to sit. They did just that — and with him gone, the entire machine fell apart.
In that first half, Michigan coughed up 1.24 points per possession, fouling more often than it hit a field goal. Two weeks ago, Wisconsin stymied the Wolverines’ offense by junking it up. On Friday, Iowa scored at will by forcing its biggest piece to sit and watch.
Teske played 11 minutes and 55 seconds in the second half before fouling out, and was a plus-3 over 13 minutes of action in a game Michigan lost by 15. The value of a player is easiest to quantify once he’s gone.
“The way Michigan plays defense is they’re really aggressive on ball-screens, and they drag them a lot,” said Iowa’s Ryan Kriener. “So that means he has to be the man in recovery. If you can either drive him or all bigger guys have trouble with — if you jump, jump into him, in that direction, bringing your arms down.
“… I can’t commend Jon Teske enough, because I know how overlooked he is. But knowing the game, that dude’s the key to their defense. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country. I 100 percent believe that he’s the key to that.”
This isn’t about Jon Teske, but the lack of a viable option behind him. On Thursday, Beilein was asked about the backup center spot and kept saying the same thing he has for over a month. Whether Davis or Johns is the first big off the bench depends on matchup, and how practice has been going.
On Friday, asked if the loss shed any light on the situation, he was a bit more direct.
“We can’t find a backup ‘5,’ ” Beilein said. “That would be the conclusion.”