Thursday night brings us a top-10 showdown in the Big Ten between the no. 3 Michigan Wolverines and the no. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes. The Wolverines are favored by 3.5 points at home, with the over/under set at 156.5 points.
Michigan has been outstanding all season, but Juwan Howard’s team has been particularly impressive since returning from a three-week hiatus. The Wolverines have won all three games since missing more than three weeks of action, including a road win over no. 4 Ohio State last weekend. At 16-1, Michigan has the inside track on the Big Ten regular-season title and a no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, Iowa appears to be peaking at the right time, winning four in a row. The Hawkeyes remain two games behind Michigan in the Big Ten standings, but with a 17-6 record, they are well-positioned to claim a no. 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, especially if they can steal a road win in Ann Arbor.
The Big Five
Fran McCaffery has started to whittle down his rotation late in the season, as Iowa’s five starters are beginning to play most of the minutes down the stretch. Of course, it’s difficult to keep center Luka Garza off the floor. He’s averaging 24.7 points per game on the season and has recorded five double-doubles in his last nine games. In addition to being able to score in the post, Garza is capable of knocking down perimeter shots, making him a matchup nightmare.
However, despite Garza’s incredible season, the Hawkeyes still need their supporting cast to show up. Senior point guard Jordan Bohannon pulls strings, averaging 4.7 assists per game. But with a shorter rotation, the Hawkeyes need a little more scoring out of him. Iowa also can’t survive without significant contributions from Joe Wieskamp. He averages over 15 points per game and is a key rebounder. But he had an off night against Penn State on Sunday in a game the Hawkeyes barely won.
Few teams in the country have a trio of stars that measures up to the Michigan trio of Hunter Dickinson, Isaiah Livers, and Franz Wagner. Dickinson provides a post presence, Livers is a three-level scorer, and Wagner is a matchup nightmare because of his 6’9’’ frame and guard skill set. All three average at least 12 points per game and each can score 20-plus points in a game.
Meanwhile, it’s Michigan’s trio of senior guards that takes the Wolverines to another level. Eli Brooks, Mike Smith, and Chaundee Brown have been standout players in the past but have taken a complementary role this season. When called upon, each can step up and produce more, which is what happened during the team’s recent win over Ohio State. The rest of the time, they provide incredible depth, not to mention valuable experience in the Michigan backcourt.
The Real Deal
Iowa may have the presumptive National Player of the Year in Garza, but the Wolverines have a better talent array. Michigan should match up better against Garza than most teams. Simultaneously, the Hawkeyes don’t have the depth or defensive prowess to handle Dickinson, Livers, and Wagner at once, not to mention Michigan’s veteran guards. The Wolverines will get after it defensively, which will enable them to win and cover against Iowa.