Tip: 2:30 PM @ Madison Square Garden
Although the Iowa Hawkeyes beat Illinois to stay alive in the Big Ten Tournament, their run will likely end on Thursday against the fifth-seeded Michigan Wolverines. The Maize and Blue go into their matchup as winners of five straight, including victories against archrival #13 Ohio State and an impressive road win in State College against the Nittany Lions. Over the span of the past five games, the Wolverines have played their best basketball of the season. Exquisite ball movement, dynamic bench scoring, and stingy defense have vaulted the #15-ranked Wolverines to ranks of the B1G elite. Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman has led the way with 15+ points in four of his last five games, including a career-high 28 in the final regular season game of his career. Jordan Poole has been scorching hot off the bench, averaging 13.3 points and shooting 75% from behind the arc in his past three games.
To beat Michigan, the Hawkeyes will need to tighten up their defense and control the boards. Against the Illinois Fighting Illini on Wednesday, Iowa won the rebound battle by a score of 40-20. Starting center Luka Garza must help the Hawks continue their dominance of the boards, which will prevent the efficient Wolverines from having any second chance opportunities. Garza finished Wednesday’s contest with a team-high 8 rebounds, along with 20 points. The freshman center will certainly have his hands full against Michigan and 6’11” Moe Wagner. Wagner, a star for the Wolverines, can score from down low, behind the arc, and can drive past any big. He must be contained for Iowa to win. The Hawkeyes can afford to play a physical, bruising brand of basketball to stop Michigan, as the Wolverines have struggled mightily from the free throw line in 2018 (their starters shoot just 58.7% at the line).
Iowa will have their own sharpshooter to match the likes of Michigan’s Abdur-Rahkman, Poole, and Wagner. Jordan Bohannon is fresh off of consecutive 25-point performances, in which he shot 60.7% from behind the arc. The sophomore guard has averaged 13.6 points per game this season. He, along with Garza and fellow sophomore Tyler Cook (#5 - F), must do the heavy lifting for the Hawkeyes. The Wolverines’ depth and speed, however, will be difficult to match, as the Hawkeyes will most likely be outgunned and outmatched. Illinois scored 14 three pointers and 86 total points in the loss to Iowa, but played sloppy defense. If Michigan can keep up their strong defensive play, win the turnover battle (Iowa had 18 against the Illini), and put up just an adequate performance against Iowa’s bigs, they will walk away victorious.
Prediction: 76 - 69 Michigan