Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa basketball hosts rare Friday feature, with No. 5 Michigan headlining

Hawkeyes try to emerge from rough patch by upsetting 20-1 Wolverines

Michigan guard Charles Matthews (1) is defended by Iowa's Maishe Dailey (1) and Luka Garza (55) during the Wolverines' 74-59 win over the Hawkeyes last Feb. 14 at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)
Michigan guard Charles Matthews (1) is defended by Iowa's Maishe Dailey (1) and Luka Garza (55) during the Wolverines' 74-59 win over the Hawkeyes last Feb. 14 at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

IOWA CITY — Basketball purists, like Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery, aren’t crazy about the Big Ten now playing conference games on Friday nights.

However, Friday night’s Michigan-Iowa game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena is sold out, which tells us two things.

One, the public is fine with Friday for their college hoops.

Two, this isn’t Schmoe U. or Schmuck State that’s rolling into Carver. It’s the No. 5 team in the land, a club that reached the national-title game last season, that has won 34 of its last 36 games, that is 20-1 this season and 9-1 in the Big Ten.

It’s Michigan. It’s marquee.

Still, playing this game on a Friday doesn’t feel completely right. You’re taking an audience share from people you supposedly love and protect, the preps.

“I think Friday night should be for high school games,” McCaffery said Thursday, “but it’s the world we live in. We made a decision as a conference to play every night. It does provide maximum exposure for our conference so I understand it. I support it in that sense.

“I think our fans like weekend games. They consider this a weekend game. That’s why it’s sold out. So from that standpoint, I’m happy about it.”

It’s Iowa’s second home game against a national power within eight days. Last Thursday, Michigan State emerged from an eight-point deficit to rough up Iowa, 82-67.

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Then Iowa lost at Minnesota Sunday, 92-87. So this game against Michigan may be fitting for a day in which we supposedly will emerge from a few days of cruelly cold weather. The Hawkeyes are trying to exit their own rough patch and stop getting abused on defense.

“Just kind of getting refocused,” Iowa forward Tyler Cook said, “making sure we’re locked in and ready Friday.”

It will take that at a minimum for the Hawkeyes to improve on their 5-5 league record. Michigan is second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 56.1 points per game. Like the Hawkeyes, all five Wolverine starters are averaging over 10 points in conference games. It’s a good, well-rounded team.

Read more: So far, Iowa is the definition of a 5-5 Big Ten team

“They believe in each other, they believe in themselves, they believe in the coaches,” McCaffery said.

“Anybody can go one-on-one at any time, but (they) stay within the structure and move the ball, compete defensively. There is no panic in what they do, so they’re not susceptible to runs. They kind of stay consistent, but each of their players plays with a tremendous amount of confidence.”

The heart of the Wolverines is 6-foot junior point guard Zavier Simpson, who averages over five rebounds and five assists. He also has a running hook shot that has proved to be a surprisingly useful asset.

“The way he’s playing, he really is running the show,” said McCaffery. “He recognizes that he has good players around him, but everything goes through him.”

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Obviously, a win over Michigan would be a hefty chunk of an argument the Hawkeyes want to be able to make to the NCAA Tournament’s selection committee in March.

“They’re a solid group,” Cook said of the Wolverines. “They play together, more so probably, than any other team that we’ve played. They’re so connected at both ends of the floor.”

Cook is fine with this being a Friday night feature.

“Super excited,” he said. “I love the fact that it was sold out a while ago. I think it’ll be a fun night.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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