After lackluster showing, visit to Iowa looms for Wolverines

Monday, January 1, 2018 - 7:09pm

Michigan coach John Beilein and the Wolverines prepare for Iowa after a lackluster last performance.

Michigan coach John Beilein and the Wolverines prepare for Iowa after a lackluster last performance. Buy this photo
Amelia Cacchione/Daily

 

On Saturday, John Beilein said he doesn’t believe the phrase “ugly win” is ever applicable.

But when describing the Michigan basketball team’s last game, those words come to mind.

In the Wolverines’ 76-51 dispatching of Jacksonville, they looked sluggish and sloppy, leaving more to be desired before a conference matchup Tuesday at Iowa.

Michigan (1-1 Big Ten, 12-3 overall) committed a season-high 12 turnovers, as its offense struggled to regain the form of nearly flawless performances against Detroit and Alabama A&M.

“I call it ‘gunk’ — we had gunk in us,” Beilein said. “We just didn’t have some things going, and we played the (last) two games so efficiently, it was bound to happen.

“I’m not moving onto Iowa before I find out what happened in the first half offensively that made us so inefficient. We just didn’t play well.”

Offensive inefficiency was apparent just seconds into Saturday’s game. Michigan’s leading scorers, forwards Charles Matthews and Mortiz Wagner were called for travels on the Wolverines’ first two possessions.

That set the tone for ten total first half turnovers.

 “(The turnovers) were unbelievable,” Beilein said. “Two times up the floor, and we walk twice to start the game. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in my life, and they were walks. … Ten turnovers in the first half — my goodness. Ten empty possessions.”

The repercussions could be far more destructive against the Hawkeyes (0-2, 9-6) — and Beilein admitted performances like Saturday’s won’t be enough in conference play.

Still, Iowa is far from being the cream of the crop in the Big Ten.

After NCAA Tournament appearances in the past three seasons, Iowa has felt the loss of star guard Peter Jok. The Hawkeyes have stumbled two six losses — including a pair of defeats to fellow-Big Ten bottom-feeders Penn State and Indiana — and have one win against a high-major opponent, Colorado.

And with a defense that allows over 72 points-per-game, Iowa has an RPI that leads only Rutgers in the Big Ten.

On offense, the Hawkeyes are led by Tyler Cook — a forward who relies on a strong slashing and athletic ability to score. Center Luke Garza, meanwhile, has a 6-foot-11 frame that frequently affects opponents’ shots in the lane.

That won’t make an easy return to conference play for Wagner, who returned to the Wolverines’ lineup Saturday after missing two games with a sprained ankle.

The layoff clearly affected Wagner.

Wagner scored just seven points and committed four turnovers — far from his season averages.

“I’m glad that Mo could make a basket,” Beilein said. “He had two weeks completely off, and you could see the effect there. If he plays that way against Iowa, we have no chance. So it was good to get that out of him.”

But Wagner’s health just weeks after sustaining what could’ve been a serious injury was encouraging enough for his coach.

“I think he’s one-for-20 in two days of practice,” Beilein said. “He is how you would feel, plus a round-trip to Germany back-and-forth. I didn’t even expect him to play that well. He hit a layup, and he hit a 3, and I said, ‘let’s get him out of here.’ ”

Despite Iowa’s struggles to-date, Michigan will need a better showing with far fewer turnovers on Tuesday.

If not, “ugly loss” could certainly characterize the Wolverines’ start to 2018.