Michigan to test momentum against No. 10 Iowa

Paul Sherman/Daily
Buy this photo

By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 21, 2014

There are hangovers — the I-can’t-get-out-of-bed-on-a-Sunday-morning hangover — and a Saturday morning, home-football-gameday hangover, the one that hardly feels like a hangover because dwelling on the night before would ignore the magnitude of what the new day holds.

For the Michigan men’s basketball team, recovering from the high that came with a win over then-No. 3 Wisconsin on Saturday night should be no problem with a new top-10 foe upcoming. Long a Big Ten afterthought, No. 10 Iowa, which comes into Ann Arbor with one of the nation’s top offenses, should be more than enough to rally the young Wolverines.

“That’s always a concern,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “You saw how I treated the game. It’s just, ‘OK, it’s another win. Let’s go. Who do we play next?’ I hope (the players) have that personality, but I hope they enjoy the game — the wins — more than I do. But I hope they have the coaching mentality, ‘OK, that’s a highlight in the season, but let’s have more highlights.’ ”

A win over the Hawkeyes would certainly be another highlight in a strong start to Big Ten play that has already raised eyebrows across the country after the Wolverines’ mediocre non-conference showing. More noteworthy, it would set up a primetime, nationally televised bout between the Big Ten’s lone unbeaten teams in East Lansing on Saturday night with No. 3 Michigan State.

But even on such a young squad, the team’s lone senior, forward Jordan Morgan, isn’t concerned about suffering the effects of a trap game on Wednesday after what the 21st-ranked Wolverines (5-0 Big Ten, 13-4 overall) have been through thus far.

“We’ve done a really good job, especially recently, of focusing on what’s right in front of us,” Morgan said. “Every game is a championship for us. We’ve just got to keep playing our best game every game.”

In the nation’s toughest conference, Iowa (4-1, 15-3) has been the biggest surprise. The Hawkeyes’ lone conference loss was a four-point nail-biter in Madison, and their non-conference losses — in overtime to No. 4 Villanova and at Iowa State — are as respectable as they come.

After narrowly missing last year’s NCAA Tournament before a runner-up finish in the NIT, Iowa and its explosive offense have grown accustomed to steamrolling opponents. The Hawkeyes’ 86.8 points per game ranks fifth in the nation — first in the Big Ten — while their average margin of victory, 20.2 points, also tops the conference. More impressively, it hasn’t slowed down in conference play, where Iowa’s four wins have come by an average of more than 16 points.

“This is a high-powered team that’s coming in here,” Beilein said, comparing Iowa to top-ranked Arizona, which defeated Michigan last month. “This team can score points. They can really score points. So keeping easy points from happening is a really difficult challenge. It won’t happen. They’re going to get them. At the same time, we’ve got to limit those opportunities.”

Leading the charge is a pair of upperclassmen with which Beilein is familiar, including senior guard Roy Devyn Marble, who averages 16.3 points per game. The Southfield, Mich. native was once a Michigan recruit, but with only one slot left for a wing, Beilein chose to instead offer the spot to another three-star guard, Tim Hardaway Jr.

Beilein compared Marble to former Ohio State guard and 2010 National Player of the Year Evan Turner.

“He’s just doing whatever he wants to do out there,” Beilein said. “He shoots threes, he passes, he steals, he rebounds. He’s a really good player.”

But it’s the Hawkeyes’ inside game on the offensive end that has been giving opponents fits. Led by junior forward Aaron White, whom Beilein coached in last summer’s World University Games, Iowa is second in the conference in rebounding margin and third in offensive rebounds. Like Michigan State and Ohio State, which have historically given the Wolverines problems on the boards, the Hawkeyes send four, or even all five players to the glass on many of their field-goal attempts.

“They’re really bent on attacking the rim, so we’re going to have to be really solid defensively,” Morgan said. “It’s going to come down to a battle of wills.”

But in that strategy, Beilein sees a chance for his team to attack. With Iowa crashing the offensive boards, Michigan will have an opportunity to turn long rebounds and outlet passes into what has become a dangerous transition offense.

Still, Beilein was coy about whether he hopes the game plays into his opponent’s preferred up-tempo style, or if he would rather see a low-possession affair.

When asked if there is a desired point total he’d like to see his team reach, he quickly responded, “Yeah,” fighting to hold back a smile while the press conference attendees broke into laughter. “Absolutely.”