By Ashley Dunkak
ANN ARBOR (CBS DETROIT) – Michigan came within a basket of upsetting No. 1 Arizona last month, and now the Wolverines host an Iowa team that head coach John Beilein says reminds him very much of those pesky Wildcats.
“Arizona’s in my mind because they’re so long and rangy,” Beilein said Tuesday. “They get stretch rebounds. They send guys to the boards. It’s going to be difficult to keep them off there because they’re coming at you in droves, too. It’s so much of a transition game. Really hard to block out in transition. You’re getting back, you’re getting back, and then all of a sudden a shot goes up, and you’re trying to find somebody in a second. It’s really hard to do.
“We’ve got to group rebound, without question,” Beilein continued. “Four guys will be in there, so we’re going to have to not only just boxing out but … don’t leak out, get possession with two hands, then, if they crashed all those guys to the board, you should have an advantage going the other way. Then pick your spots, run really fast the other way, get easy hoops.”
Not surprisingly given the Hawkeyes’ strategy that Beilein described, Iowa ranks first in the Big 10 with 44.6 rebounds per game, a category in which Michigan languishes in the 12th and last spot with 33.6 per game.
The 10th-ranked Hawkeyes have just three losses this season and all were against currently ranked teams.
“We have our hands full tomorrow,” Beilein said. “Iowa is really good. I always thought … the teams that had the success they had in the postseason in the NIT are probably teams that should have been in the tournament, just didn’t get in for numbers reason, whatever, and then got hot at the right time. But they returned that whole team, virtually, and have gotten better and the parts that they’ve added right now are really good as well
“While they’re probably not as good as Arizona overall, they have a lot of similar qualities to Arizona that we’re going to have to play really well, we’re going to have to rebound out of our area. Our hustle area is going to have to be very strong,” Beilein said. “The ball’s going to have to bounce our way, but that’s what we plan to do – make it bounce our way and execute offense and defense. This is a high-powered team that’s coming in here with six juniors and seniors that are very hungry to get Iowa to the NCAA tournament and beyond.”
The 21st-ranked Wolverines have four losses, with two coming against Top 25 teams in then-No. 10 Duke and still-No. 1 Arizona. Both teams boast a resume-boosting Big Ten victory – Iowa defeated then-No. 3 Ohio State, and Michigan vanquished then-No. 3 Wisconsin.
For their part, the Wolverines seem confident.
“Three out of our four games that we lost, anybody could have lost those games,” forward Jordan Morgan said. “It was just important for us to just learn from those games and just keep moving on because at that point we had a lot of basketball to play yet, and at this point, you still do.”
Still, Michigan knows the challenge Iowa will present, particularly because the Hawkeyes are loaded with veterans while the Wolverines have one of the youngest teams in the country.
“They’re going to test our discipline,” Morgan said. “They’re really trying to score, score quickly, and so we’ve got to be really good in transition. They’re really bent on attacking the rim, so we’re going to have to be really solid defensively. They draw a lot of fouls, and we don’t like to foul.
“It’s going to come down to a battle of wills at the end of the night,” Morgan concluded.