Michigan is a statement game for Iowa

BY BEN ROSS | FEBRUARY 07, 2014 5:00 AM

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No. 10 Michigan (17-5, 9-1 Big Ten), the NCAA runner-up from last year’s Big Dance will come to Iowa City Saturday, and the Black and Gold better get ready to strut once again. No. 17 Iowa’s (17-6, 6-4) last tango with the Wolverines was not pretty.

Michigan all-world guard Nik Stauskas dropped 26 points on the Hawkeyes in Ann Arbor on Jan. 22, and the opposing bench outscored Iowa’s deep bench for the first time all season.

The Maize and Blue have gone 3-1 since their victory over Iowa, while the Hawkeyes have gone just 2-2, dropping games against Michigan State and Ohio State at home. Iowa has yet to lose consecutive games, though, so if it has anything going for itself, its the fact Iowa has been pretty good at rebounding and getting a win after a loss.

Iowa is coming off probably its worst game of the season, a 76-69 loss to the Buckeyes, while Michigan waxed Nebraska, 79-50, on Feb. 5. The Hawkeyes will have to do just about everything better against Michigan if they want to have a chance of sniffing a win. A triumph over the conference leader would be a huge step in the right direction for a Hawkeye squad that has struggled to put games away as of late.

“The Big Ten — there’s nothing like it,” Iowa guard Mike Gesell said. “Top to bottom, the Big Ten is very good. Every night you go out you have to bring your A game. We’ll get right back to work. We have Michigan, one of the top teams in the country,”

Right now, the depth that was lauded as a huge advantage for Iowa seems to be holding the team back a bit, as certain player lineups seem to struggle while head coach Fran McCaffery still searches for the most effective five to put on the floor at one time.

Iowa also has not been getting the help it was used to receiving at the beginning of the season, when Devyn Marble and Aaron White seemed to combine for at least 30 points a game, and the 3-ball was falling like apples in autumn. Iowa hit just 3 of its 20 3-point attempts against Ohio State, while White and Marble combined for just 18 points.

“Obviously, we lost to them up there,” McCaffery said. “You know, last week, we sat here not feeling good about how the game went, and I felt like we needed to regroup and get the team ready to play on Saturday [against Illinois], and we did that. I thought our guys were really professional in their approach. I was very proud of them, told them that … we just have to learn from it and get ready for Saturday. Obviously, the No. 1 team in our league right now.”

Backup center Gabe Olaseni saw just seven minutes in a 2-point performance against the Wolverines in the first matchup, but since, the London native is averaging 20 minutes, 11 points, and 6 rebounds over the past four games. His play will set the tempo against the Big Ten goliath, and if he does well, Iowa greatly betters its chances of stealing a victory at home against one of the best teams in the country.

But Marble said Olaseni might not be the only advantage it has over Michigan. Carver-Hawkeye might be the biggest gun in Iowa’s shrinking arsenal.

“You always want to protect your home court,” Marble said. “Last two, we’ve come up short; that puts more pressure on having to get wins on the road. But I think there’s always a sense of urgency and importance to win at home because it is so tough to win in this league.

“It’s a good opportunity for us. We just have to come out with a different mindset and play at a different energy level. I think it’s a really good team; they really spread the floor well, they have good scorers. It’s going to take a different kind of focus and game plan to prepare for this team.”

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