Resilient Michigan next for Iowa men's basketball team
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The losses are inevitable.
"It's how you respond to them," Iowa point guard Mike Gesell said.
The Hawkeyes will try to snap a three-game Big Ten losing streak when they face Michigan at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Crisler Center.
"It's more about a glitch in their schedule," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "They've played a lot of really tough teams."
A four-point loss at Purdue was sandwiched between defeats to Wisconsin, the class of the Big Ten. But the season has reached a critical win-or-else point for the Hawkeyes' NCAA Tournament hopes.
Michigan, 6-4 in the Big Ten, is in seventh place. Iowa is eighth. After Thursday's game, seven of the Hawkeyes' last nine games are against teams below them in the standings. One of the exceptions is a Sunday date with Maryland (6-3) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Plenty of winnable games. But you've got to start winning some of them.
"You can't start thinking, 'Oh, we need the next five since we lost three,' " Iowa forward Aaron White said. "Or we need the next two. It's nothing like that. It's one game at a time."
Michigan would be a good place to start. The Wolverines are expected to be without two of their three top scorers. Caris LeVert was lost for the season after breaking his foot at the end of a Jan. 17 game against Northwestern. He was averaging a team-best 14.9 points a game.
Michigan has gone 2-2 without LeVert, and the losses were both in overtime — Wisconsin at home and at Michigan State on Sunday. Derrick Walton, Jr., the No. 3 scorer at 10.7 points, also missed that Michigan State game and is expected to miss the Iowa game with a foot injury.
That means the Wolverines have just one player left — Zak Irvin — who averages more than 6.5 points a game. But Beilein keeps pushing the right button to keep his team competitive. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins, two of six true freshmen on the Michigan roster, have made the most with their extended minutes.
Abdur-Rahkman scored 18 points at Michigan State, one less than he scored in Michigan's first 14 games combined. Dawkins has posted two of his three double-figure scoring games since LeVert was injured.
"They're getting valuable experience, and they're getting better because they're getting actual playing time," Beilein said. "You can't do it if you don't have the right young men on the team that will really buy into the team concept. And we've been able to do that without LeVert."
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery sees the same kind of Beilein basketball he has coached against since coming into the Big Ten.
"They're sharing the ball," said McCaffery, who is 2-4 against Beilein at Iowa. "And they've got some guys that are stepping up into roles that other people had before … when you look at Dawkins as a young player, he's been tremendous. Abdul-Rahkman, he's been unbelievable."