#4 Michigan 103, Iowa 91: A Balanced Beatdown

By RossWB on December 7, 2019 at 9:21 am
go hawks go
© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Entering Friday night, Iowa had lost both games this season in which they had given up a 50-point half to an opponent (DePaul scored 53 in the first half in their win over Iowa, while San Diego State scored 51 points in the second half of their win over Iowa a week ago). So, reader, what do you think happened when Iowa gave up two 50-point halves to Michigan in one game? Turns out it's very, very, very difficult to win if you give up that many points, as Iowa discovered in a 103-91 loss to Michigan. 

Michigan's offensive eruption slightly overshadowed the other main story of the game: Luka Garza producing one of the finest performances in the history of Iowa basketball. Garza has been on a tear all season, but he reached new heights on Friday, scoring 44 points in 36 minutes of action. He hit 44 points without the benefit of any 3-pointers, either (0/3 from deep), instead making 17/29 2-point attempts and 10/13 tries from the free throw line. He was an unstoppable force down low, using some mid-range jump shots and an array of moves in the post, including layups, tip-ins, and hook shots, to pour in bucket after bucket. And when he didn't make a shot, he often got fouled (sometimes he made the shot and got fouled) and added more points from the free throw line.

There's nothing to say about Garza's performance except "wow" or "well done, big fella." Garza scored the most points of any player in the Fran Era at Iowa (topping Peter Jok's 42 points against Memphis in 2016, also in a losing effort), and the most points scored by any Iowa player not named John Johnson. Johnson has the top-two single-game scoring performances in Iowa history (49 against Northwestern in 1970, 46 against Milwaukee in 1968). Basically Garza did something that hadn't been done by any Iowa player in almost 50 years. Incredible. 

Garza got very little aid from the rest of the Iowa team, though, especially in the first half when he had 27 (!) of Iowa's 38 points. None-Garza players had 11 points on 4/15 shooting before halftime. The 3-point shooting was an especially significant disparity in the first half; Iowa attempted only four shots from beyond the arc and made just one of them, while Michigan went 6/13 from downtown. Michigan made just two more field goals than Iowa in the first half (17 to 15) and free throws were close to a wash (10/10 for Michigan, 7/8 for Iowa), but making five more threes was critical in helping Michigan build a 50-38 lead at halftime. 

Iowa managed to keep Michigan in sight for most of the second half -- the Wolverines were never able to extend their lead to 18-20 and fully turn the game into a rout -- but they were never able to get it that close, either. Michigan's lead never dipped below 7 in the second half, as every time Iowa mounted a run to reduce the lead, Michigan had a strong response. Garza had 17 points in the second half and got more help from the rest of the team, who combined for 36 points. Connor McCaffery was an unexpected offensive bright spot in the second half, scoring all 12 of his points in the game on 4/6 shooting from the floor and 4/5 shooting from the free throw line. Joe Toussaint and Ryan Kriener each contributed six points off the bench in the second half, while Joe Wieskamp had five points off the bench and C.J. Fredrick added four points (and three assists). 

Alas, a 53-point half by Iowa only enabled them to keep pace with Michigan, because the Wolverines also scored 53 points in the second half. Their three-point shooting cooled slightly from the red-hot form they displayed in the first half, and they made "only" 4/11 long range attempts, but they made 11/16 tries on 2-point shots and made nearly 80% of their free throw attempts (19/24), although the sheer quantityt of free throws they shot was goosed by Fran's ill-fated efforts to extend the game by fouling more in the final few minutes.

Overall, Iowa managed to score 93 points on 74 possessions, posting a dazzling 1.23 points per possession. Those are absolutely elite offensive numbers and, indeed, Iowa's offensive efficiency moved from sixth in the nation before this game to third in the nation after the game was over. It was for naught, though, because Iowa's defense was utterly woeful. Michigan scored 103 points on 74 possessions and posted a mind-boggling 1.39 points per possession average. That means Michigan scored almost a point and a half every single time they had the ball. That... is difficult to overcome.

Michigan shot 55% from the floor for the game, making 65% of their 2-point shots (22/34) and 41% of their threes (10/24), and also made 85% (29/34) of their free throws. And while Iowa's offense was mainly The Luka Garza Show, Michigan countered with a balanced attack that was more effective; six Michigan players, including all five starters, finished with 12 or more points, led by Franz Wagner's 18. But Jon Teske and Zavier Simpson had 16 apiece as well, Isaiah Livers had 14 points, Eli Brooks had 13, and Brandon Johns, Jr. had 12 off the bench. Everyone from Michigan was finding the bottom of the net tonight, as they sliced and diced a porous Iowa defense. 

Games like this are not exactly unknown quantities in the Fran Era. This game resembled that aforementioned Memphis game from 2016, when Jok scored 42 but Iowa lost 100-92 (another game where Iowa scored over 1.2 PPP themselves, but allowed an opponent to score over 1.3 PPP, too). And it really resembled a few of the all-offense, no-defense scoring binges from early in Fran's tenure, like the 103-89 loss to Indiana in 2012 or the 108-97 loss to Oregon in the NIT that same year. Iowa's defense dropped over 20 spots in the efficiency rankings (down to 128th, nationally) after this game and it's going to continue to sink unless Iowa can turn things around on that end very, very quickly. 

NEXT: Iowa returns home to take on Minnesota (4-4) on Monday night (7 PM CT, BTN). 

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