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Mercurial Michigan meets red-hot Murray and his Iowa Hawkeyes
Wolverines were popular preseason pick, but are tied with Iowa in Big Ten at 7-6
This season’s Michigan men’s basketball team is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.
On Feb. 10 in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines pummeled Big Ten title-contender Purdue, 82-58. Two days later, Michigan lost at home to Ohio State, 68-57.
What Iowa does know it will face Thursday night when the 13-10 Wolverines come to Carver-Hawkeye Arena is this: A 7-foot-1, 260-pound center who tends to get the job done.
Hunter Dickinson is a sophomore giant who has averaged 20.7 points in Big Ten play. He has displayed an unusually good shooting touch for a player his size, making 39 percent of his 3-point tries. In conference games, he has connected on 36 of 41 free throws, 87.8 percent.
Iowa post player Filip Rebraca will surrender 4 inches and 30 pounds against Dickinson. That’s nothing new for him against premier Big Ten centers, but Dickinson’s skill set is a whole different matter.
“Unlike Kofi (Cockburn) and Zach Edey,” Rebraca said, “where they are very low-post dominant and don’t really shoot outside the paint, Hunter Dickinson has the ability to shoot a mid-range jumper and shoot a 3-pointer.
“It’s going to be difficult, but I’ve got to do everything I can to make it harder on my guy.”
Dickinson has been consistent on a team that has not. Like Iowa, Michigan is 7-6 in the Big Ten. Unlike the Hawkeyes, the Wolverines had much expected of them in the preseason.
In fact, a media poll of 28 Big Ten reporters pegged Michigan the preseason favorite to win the conference for a second-straight year.
Last season’s Wolverines had Franz Wagner, who is averaging 15.6 points in his NBA rookie season with the Orlando Magic. They also had guard Isaiah Livers, now with the Detroit Pistons alongside rookie center Luka Garza of Iowa.
Much belief was placed in 6-foot-8 rookie wing Caleb Houstan, picked the preseason Freshman of the Year in that media poll. He was a 5-star recruit. He’s a good player, who averages 10.2 points, but he scored six points or less in three of his last five games, including the Ohio State loss.
Dickinson, however, has been a constant.
“I love his game,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “I recruited him very hard.
“He keeps getting better. He can really score in the low post, pretty much since I watched him play as a young kid. I think he’s expanded his game, making 3s. His 17-foot jumper is pretty automatic.
“I think he’s a competitor, too. You better be in this league.”
McCaffery’s team is coming off three straight double-digit wins over second-division Big Ten clubs. It tackles a three-game, six-day gauntlet that could go a long way toward showing how valid it is as an NCAA tournament candidate.
After this game, the Hawkeyes (17-7 overall) are at No. 18 Ohio State Saturday afternoon, then host Michigan State next Tuesday.
On Tuesday, McCaffery said “we won’t even address” what comes after Michigan until that game is done.
It’s good advice. When Iowa played its one game against Michigan last year, the Wolverines won 79-57 in Ann Arbor. Dickinson stymied Garza, who made 6 of 19 shots and scored 16 points.
Michigan, however, is faced with what to do with Iowa’s Keegan Murray, who is averaging 33.5 points over his last two games. So the challenges go both ways.
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