ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Beyond Saturday’s result at Michigan – a 71-61 win that snapped a four-game losing streak – there are statistical reasons to feel like Iowa is back on track.
First, look at the Wolverines’ point total. This is a team that was averaging 75.4 points per game, and the Hawkeyes’ defense delivered its best performance since holding Penn State to 49 on Feb. 3 – 31 days ago.
When asked what he liked about Saturday’s performance, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery first pointed there.
“Defensive intensity at the start, I thought that was critical,” he said. “You go on the road and you play a team that has a lot of offensive weapons, you’ve got to get into them. I thought it really sort of propelled our offense as well. You get stops, we got comfortable scoring the ball.”
Iowa, no doubt, had struggled defensively of late – particularly late in ballgames. But after Michigan sliced Iowa’s 15-point lead to five with 6 minutes, 13 seconds to go, it scored only seven more points – three in the final minute after the game was decided. That can't go unnoticed.
Iowa went 4-0 against Big Ten teams from his home state. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
Next, let’s look at Iowa’s assist-to-turnover numbers.
It was alarming that in three consecutive losses to unranked teams after an 11-2 Big Ten Conference start, Iowa’s assist/turnover ratios were 11/13, 9/14, 11/15. The Hawkeyes (21-9, 12-6 Big Ten Conference) showed signs of better ball control – as had been evident during most of the season – in last week’s loss to Indiana (16/9 ratio), then affirmed that turnaround with a 19/8 number Saturday.
“We’re fighting. You’re back to 19 assists, eight turns. That’s more like us,” McCaffery said. “Same thing last game. It hadn’t been like that for a little while. So that’s good to see.”
Iowa guard Anthony Clemmons, a nearby Lansing, Mich., native, was asked about what it felt like to go 2-0 in the state of Michigan this season. He quickly changed the narrative to point out that the Hawkeyes went 4-0 overall against his home-state Big Ten schools – sweeping two matchups each against Michigan State (Dec. 29, Jan. 14) and Michigan (Jan. 17, Saturday).
As you can imagine, Clemmons broke into a big smile talking about it. It’s especially important that Clemmons' Hawkeyes outdueled high school teammates Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes of Michigan State.
“To be able to do that, my last year, it means a lot,” said Clemmons, who scored 12 clutch points in Saturday’s win. “Nobody remembers the previous season, they always remember the last season. So to be able to come out with four victories over teams from Michigan means a lot to me.”
Because Iowa locked itself into the 4 or 5 seed with Saturday’s win, it guaranteed it would be on the opposite side of the Big Ten Tournament bracket from Michigan State – which, alongside Kansas, is probably playing the most impressive ball in the country. That’s a good thing. The only way Clemmons faces Valentine/Forbes again until the NCAAs is if both teams make next Sunday’s conference-tournament title game.
Uh, the bench?
Everyone celebrated the Iowa bench’s glorious return, even in a loss, Tuesday against Indiana. The Hawkeyes scored 27 bench points in that game, but on Saturday it contributed five.
But that was OK on this night, because Jarrod Uthoff was amazing with 29 points, the most he’d scored since a career-high 32 on Dec. 10 at Iowa State.
“This is what everybody wants to see out of him. But they want to see that every day,” Clemmons said. “He showed he can do it, now it’s time to … start doing it every time you step on the floor.”
Dom Uhl (no points or rebounds in seven minutes) was again a non-factor. Nicholas Baer missed his first two 3-point attempts, then didn’t try another shot. Christian Williams had a clutch 3-point play in the first half after Michigan had cut Iowa’s lead to two. Freshman Ahmad Wagner played the most of any reserve, with two points in 11 minutes.
McCaffery only used the bench for 11 combined second-half minutes.
What gives on timeouts?
Iowa held a 36-30 lead late in the first half and could’ve held for the last shot. But the Hawkeyes’ Mike Gesell threw up a wild left-handed layup attempt with 18 seconds left instead.
What gives? Why didn’t Iowa take its use-it-or-lose-it timeout to set up a buzzer-beating shot, instead of gifting the ball back to Michigan?
McCaffery actually was beckoning at his players to call a timeout, but they didn’t hear him amid the Crisler Arena noise. New this season, coaches can’t call live-ball timeouts – only players can. So the Wolverines got the ball back, but they failed to score to end the half. Late-half clock management needs to get better.
Hey, there's Rudock!
Waiting outside Iowa’s locker room after the game was a familiar face: Jake Rudock.
Rudock was a two-year Iowa football starter at quarterback before using the NCAA’s graduate-transfer rule to play for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan in 2015, his final year of eligibility. Rudock was affable in off-the-record conversations as he waited for some of his old Iowa friends – Gesell and Peter Jok, in particular – to emerge after their win at Crisler Arena.
Rudock (a brainiac) will pursue his NFL dream, participating in an upcoming Pro Day, before tackling medical school down the road.
“I knew Jake pretty well. I was texting him before this, and he said he was going to come down and say hi. It was good to see him,” Gesell said. “He’s a great guy. I was rooting for him all year playing at Michigan. I wish the best for him.”