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  • Michigan's offense failed to deliver on Friday night, as Iowa controlled the game with its defense and handed the Wolverines their second loss of the season.
By Molly Geary
February 01, 2019

For the second time in the last two weeks Michigan has lost a Big Ten game, and the circumstances are familiar. The Wolverines went into a tough road environment and saw their offense stall, this time dropping a 74–59 contest to Iowa on Friday night.

The first loss, of course, came against Wisconsin in Madison, when Michigan went cold down the stretch and the Badgers pulled away for a 10-point win. The Wolverines were limited to 54 points in that one, and just 0.82 per possession, then returned to Ann Arbor and had a big scare when they blew a double-digit lead to Minnesota and needed a Charles Matthews buzzer beater to escape with a 59–57 win.

A lack of offense was the story again in Iowa City—especially considering the Hawkeyes entered the game sporting the Big Ten’s least efficient defense in conference play. Despite the fact that Iowa is allowing league opponents to shoot 56.1% from inside the arc—also a Big Ten-worst mark—Michigan managed just a 40.6% mark, going 13-for-32 on two-point attempts.

The Wolverines were even worse from the perimeter, where they finished 8-for-33 (24.2%), the fifth time in their last eight games where they shot under 30% from three. It added up to just 29 points in the first half and 30 in the second, with Michigan once again hitting a wall down the stretch, with more turnovers (2) than made field goals (1) in the final four and a half minutes. On the night it scored 0.81 points per possession, essentially the same mark it had against a much tougher defense two weeks ago at Wisconsin. 

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For Iowa, Friday was exactly the kind of signature win it needed, especially coming off a road loss at Minnesota that saw the defense give up 92 points. Defense has been a major weakness for the Hawkeyes over the last few seasons, and a deep inability to get stops last year spoiled a strong offensive team as they stumbled to a 14–19 record.

The defense still isn’t great this year—Iowa entered Friday ranked 119th on kenpom—but it’s improved enough to combine with a top-10 efficient offense and help it get to 17–5 and 6–5 in the Big Ten. Efforts like Friday will only serve to give the Hawkeyes further confidence on the defensive end, even if it clearly wasn’t one of Michigan’s best nights.

One of the main problems for the Wolverines on offense right now is that too many players are disappearing or inconsistent. Senior Charles Matthews hasn’t scored more than 10 points since Jan. 13 and more than 15 since Jan. 6, and went just 2-for-12 from the field against the Hawkeyes to finish with 10. Despite his strong sophomore jump, Jordan Poole is shooting just 35.8% from the floor over his last five games, and needed 12 shots to score 16 on Friday. Meanwhile, Isaiah Livers failed to build on his encouraging 12-point outing from Tuesday against Ohio State, attempting just four shots and finishing with three points.

Those three points represented the only points scored by the Michigan bench in Iowa City, which isn’t totally shocking. On the season, the Wolverines’ bench minutes rank 350th nationally, meaning only three Division I teams get fewer minutes from their non-starters. It plays out in the bench production, where the most amount of points Michigan’s short rotation has received from there in any of its last six games was 12 (all by Livers).

Michigan’s defense ranks first in the country in efficiency, which is the main reason why this team is so dangerous and a very real threat to go on another deep March run. But the offensive worries are real, and right now the Wolverines have to hope that this is more of a midseason lull rather than a sign of struggles that will continue to persist. Michigan showed back in November and December—when it ran opponents like Villanova, North Carolina and Purdue out of the building—what its defense and offense are capable of. Now the challenge is to get back to a closer balance on both ends.

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