It’s been an up-and-down first half for both Michigan and Iowa, but their peaks and valleys have come in different forms heading into Thursday night’s Big Ten Conference contest in Iowa City.
Michigan is trying to use the Big Ten season to right a ship that went off course during its nonconference schedule.
The Wolverines didn’t get a signature win and lost five games against non-Big Ten opponents, the worst being a home loss to Central Michigan on Dec. 29.
But Michigan (9-6, 3-1) has rebounded in conference play heading into its only meeting of the season with Iowa (10-6, 2-3).
The Wolverines absorbed a 59-53 setback at rival Michigan State on Saturday for their first loss in conference play.
Michigan is trying to forge on with young guards such as freshmen Dug McDaniel and Jett Howard, and sophomore Kobe Bufkin, shouldering the ballhandling and playmaking roles after senior Jaelin Llewellyn suffered a season-ending knee injury against Kentucky on Dec. 4.
“Belief and trust in our locker room and also on that roster, it’s real,” Michigan head coach Juwan Howard said. “Whoever goes in the game, we know it’s going to be next man up mentality.”
Michigan still has an All-American candidate at center in junior Hunter Dickinson, who is averaging 18.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
Iowa, meanwhile, comes in having earned some key nonconference wins before struggling a bit in league play.
The Hawkeyes lost their first three Big Ten games before posting consecutive wins over Indiana at home and at Rutgers.
While Iowa features an All-American candidate in Kris Murray (21.3 points per game), the biggest revelation in the 76-65 win at Rutgers on Sunday was the play of sophomore guard Payton Sandfort, who scored 22 points after missing all 19 of his shot attempts in Iowa’s three Big Ten losses.
If Sandfort can keep it up, it will add another weapon for Iowa to rely on.
“When he’s hot like that, he can do that,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “I’ve seen him do that many times.”
–Field Level Media