The Michigan basketball team just couldn’t stop Jarrod Uthoff. That wasn’t the Wolverines’ only problem in a game in which they tallied 11 turnovers, but after having junior forward Zak Irvin, redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson and sophomore forward Kameron Chatman try to defend the 6-foot-9 forward, it was apparent that no one on Michigan’s squad could deter him.
Uthoff scored 29 points in Iowa’s 71-61 victory, and in a way, the Wolverines (10-8 Big Ten, 20-11 overall) may have seen it coming.
While guards Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht were honored prior to the Senior Night game, a different senior from Iowa (12-6, 21-9) had a night of his own while the two Wolverines watched from the bench. Albrecht and LeVert would have been two of Michigan’s best defenders this season, but after their careers ended early, they watched a repetitive problem unfold in front of them throughout the season.
The Wolverines have trouble defending long players, and it was apparent all season long.
More recently, 7-footer Alex Olah dropped 19 points on Michigan on Feb. 24. Against Maryland on Jan. 17, 6-foot-9 Robert Carter and 6-foot-11 Diamond Stone scored 15 and 22 points, respectively. The Wolverines didn’t make much more of an improvement against the two taller Terrapins in the rematch on Feb. 21, either, allowing the two to combine for another 30 points.
Michigan, meanwhile, struggled to get its own big men going Saturday, combining for 11 points.
“We had trouble seeing the big man on the roll,” Beilein said. “We just had trouble. Zak saw him better than the other guys did. We didn’t get those looks that we’ve been getting that have better balance to our game.”
The Wolverines tried to compensate and attempted 34 3-pointers, but they made just eight.
Though Michigan outscored the Hawkeyes in the paint, 28-26, Iowa hit mid-range jumpers early and often, silencing the Michigan crowd as soon as it started to get loud.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery knew that his senior would have a big night the day before in practice, saying that he finally looked like himself in practice after playing some down games.
“I saw Jarrod Uthoff early,” Beilein said. “I mean, there are some things at his length and his size, I mean he hit the sleeper 3, I think he hit another (3-pointer), he hit a pull up. I mean, they’re good at running it.
“(Iowa) is just playing to win, and he played really loose.”
Added Robinson: “He’s talented, he’s very talented. He hit some tough shots, so credit to him. We gotta do a better job of staying locked into our assignments, just being more locked in as a team defensively.”
Though Michigan clawed back from a 15-point deficit in the second half with a 10-0 run that lasted six minutes, it ended with 4:10 left in the game when guard Mike Gesell stole the ball from Irvin for a fast-break layup.
The steal was a fitting turning point in the Wolverines’ game. The Hawkeyes stole the ball seven different times and scored 12 points off of turnovers. Following Gesell’s steal, Iowa pulled away once more, able to master both Michigan’s offense and defense.
“It’s a team that you really have to focus on stopping because of all the different action that they run at you,” McCaffery said. “John’s offense is well-known nationally. He has all kinds of counters and dribble-ats and blare screens and ball screens — ball screen again. I mean, you gotta really stay after it if you want to stop them.
“We didn’t give up any backdoors or really any easy layups.”
The Wolverines have become predictable in their losing contests, and in a game that was considered to be a must-win for their NCAA Tournament chances, they didn’t vary their formula enough to change the outcome.