Wednesday’s Big Ten game between No. 22 Michigan and Iowa will feature the best versus the worst in the conference in one important aspect.
Michigan enters the game No. 1 in the conference in scoring defense at 63.7 points allowed a game, which is the main reason the Wolverines (20-7, 9-5 Big Ten) are in solid shape to earn an NCAA Tournament berth and are just a game behind Nebraska for fourth place in the conference. It is rather stunning given Michigan’s history of being highlighted by offensive efficiency.
The top four teams in the standings earn double-byes for the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City later this month.
Just like Michigan, Iowa under coach Fran McCaffrey has been a team known for scoring points and not preventing them.
But unlike Michigan, the Hawkeyes haven’t come close to reversing that trend this year.
Iowa is last in the Big 10 in points allowed at 78.5 points per game, a big reason why the Hawkeyes (12-15, 3-11) are tied for 11th and seemingly destined to play on the first day of the conference tournament.
“You have to be able to defend on a consistent basis,” McCaffrey said following an 82-64 loss at conference-leading Ohio State on Saturday. “We’ve been good in every game at times in stretches. Just not consistently and that is what it really comes down to.”
To pull off the upset in Ann Arbor, Iowa will have to do what it usually does best, which is put the ball in the basket.
The Hawkeyes are No. 3 in the conference in scoring offense at 80.1 points per game, although they were held far below that average in the first meeting of the season Jan. 2 in Iowa City, won 75-68 by Michigan. Iowa shot 48 percent in the first meeting but gave up 49 percent shooting and allowed Michigan to hit 11 of 25 3-pointers.
Iowa is finishing off a difficult point in its schedule as well, given the Hawkeyes last three games have been at Penn State, at home to No. 2 Michigan State and at No. 8 Ohio State. Iowa dropped a 96-93 decision to Michigan State on Feb. 6, but that game was sandwiched around blowouts to Penn State and Ohio State.
For Michigan, this week will mark its last two home games of the season.
After the Iowa game, the Wolverines will have their home finale Sunday against Ohio State.
The Wolverines are coming off an 83-72 win at Wisconsin on Sunday, a game that saw Michigan rebound from a 61-52 loss at Northwestern on Feb. 6 by shooting better than 65 percent from the field in the first half and build a 44-22 lead at halftime.
“I think we came out hungry in practice this week,” Michigan senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said following the Wisconsin win. “We had a sense of urgency to get to work and get back on the winning track. I think it showed (against Wisconsin). We came out aggressive and hungry.”
In the first meeting of the season against Iowa, Michigan built an 18-point lead in the first half and led by 17 with six minutes left in the first half before a late flurry by Iowa made the final score closer.