Two Questions About Michigan vs. Iowa This EveningPosted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) & Jonathan Batuello on January 22nd, 2014
Nik Stauskas’ pull-up jumper to stun Wisconsin on the road has raised eyebrows around the Big Ten because it appears that Michigan has figured out how to play without Mitch McGary in the lineup. Iowa, on the other hand, doesn’t have any injury issues of its own and appears to be one of the best teams in the country. Two of our Big Ten writers – Deepak Jayanti and Jonathan Batuello – address a couple of key questions heading into Wednesday night’s big game in Ann Arbor.
Both Devyn Marble and Nik Stauskas have been scorching hot from the field lately. Do you expect them to continue their hot shooting in this game, or is there any way one of them and their teams can be slowed down by the opposing defense?
JB: It isn’t just recently these two have been shooting and scoring well. Both have been the stars for their teams all season and have put themselves squarely in the Big Ten Player of the Year conversation. Granted, their play in the conference season has been particularly superb — in the past two games alone, Stauskas has scored 44 points and Marble 38 of his own. It seems safe to say they both will continue their strong play tonight as it is doubtful the other team can slow them down (Iowa and Michigan are both significantly better offensive teams than defensive ones). The only way they won’t be scoring much is if either team moves its offensive game plan away from them, an unlikely scenario.
DJ: I don’t disagree that both Marble and Stauskas have been carrying the offensive burden from day one, but I’d be a bit concerned if the former falls in love with his three-pointer. Shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc is impressive, but his strength is really his ability to get to the basket. Sometimes when a player is hot from long range, he develops a false confidence that will backfire against tougher competition, especially in games on the road. If Marble attempts more than five three-pointers, that’s cause for concern because instead of going inside-out with his offensive game, he’ll waste possessions without forcing Jordan Morgan or Jon Horford to defend him in the paint. On the other hand, it is equally likely that Stauskas could go cold from the field, but he has shown some maturity during this season in that he’s willing to beat defenders off the dribble when his shot isn’t dropping. He was excellent in pulling up from the mid-range off of picks against Wisconsin over the weekend, so he has proved that he can find a different scoring angle if his three-point jumper isn’t falling.
What are you looking for in each team that will prove to you that it is still a legitimate contender despite a loss on Wednesday night?
JB: Both teams are so good on offense (third and fourth in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offense category) that I am looking to see if Iowa’s defense can get critical stops late in the game. This team is no longer just playing to prove it is a good team, but it is playing to show it can be a top four protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. It has won its fair share of shootouts, but there will be games when the offense simply can’t put up 80 points. Maybe this won’t be the game when it happens, but playing at Michigan is a good test to see how its defense, particularly on the wings, reacts. Can it hold a potent Wolverines’ offense under 70 on its home floor? If it does that, even in a loss, it will have shown deserving of joining the conversation for placement among not only the best in the Big Ten but also the nation.
DJ: We know that both of these squads prefer to play a fast-paced game but their ability to contend for the conference title depends on their defensive intensity. The Hawkeyes proved against Ohio State that they can get stops when needed by shutting down LaQuinton Ross over the last five minutes in Columbus, but the Wolverines’ defense hasn’t shown any such sign yet. Controlling the Badgers on the road was impressive, but they won that game with their shooting, not necessarily with their defense. Under the assumption that this game is in the range of 75 points, it’ll be interesting to see which team can produce those few late stops to seal the win. Derrick Walton’s play during these games is another item to track because the freshman’s ability to control the game without turning the ball over will be key if the Wolverines hope to beat superior teams such as Michigan State over the next few weeks. With Stauskas, Glenn Robinson and Caris Levert picking up the offensive burden, Walton has eased into a gentler facilitative role, but this game will be another test to track his maturity two months into his first season.