By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The last time the University of Iowa men’s basketball team lost two straight games, the Hawkeyes responded with a five-game winning streak.
Following consecutive losses to No. 6/5 Michigan State and at Minnesota, the 25th-ranked Hawkeyes are facing their biggest test of the season with No. 5 Michigan coming to Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday night.
The game will tipoff at 6:01 p.m. (CT) and it will be televised on FS1. It is sold out.
“They’re a solid group and they play together, more so than any other group that we’ve played,” said junior Tyler Cook. “They are so connected on both ends of the floor. It will be a fun matchup for us and it’s another opportunity to play against another top-tiered team in the country.
“Games against Michigan are always fun; we’re looking forward to another one (Friday).”
The Wolverines are tied atop the Big Ten standings with Michigan State at 9-1, but Michigan is tops in the conference with 20 wins. The Wolverines won their first 17 games before falling 64-54 at Wisconsin on Jan. 19. They have won their three games since.
Michigan has three players averaging double figures and four players with 20 or more 3-point field goals. Freshman Ignas Brazdeikis leads the team, averaging 15.1 points, Charles Matthews averages 12.9 points, and Jordan Poole adds 12.7 points.
Point guard Zavier Simpson averages 8.9 points, 5.9 assists, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.6 steals, which is the reason Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery calls Simpson the key to the Wolverines.
“The way he has been playing, he is running the show,” said McCaffery. “He recognizes he has good players around him, but everything goes through him.”
For the Hawkeyes to get a marque victory, McCaffery has a laundry list of Iowa “must-dos.”
“If you want to be a team that is 20-1, you have to play well in transition and defend,” said McCaffery. “You have to do it all consistently, not in spurts. You have to win the battle on the glass because they’re going to make broken plays 3s if you don’t.
“You have to fight them on the glass, in transition, run your stuff, move the ball and you have to do it better than they do because they’re going to do the same things.”
Iowa is going to have to contend with the Big Ten’s top scoring defense (56.1) and 3-point field goal defense (.294). The Wolverines are also second in turnover margin (+3.8) and field goal percentage defense (.392).
“They play together so well,” said Cook. “They’re so connected on that end and they’re consistent. A lot of teams are capable of playing that caliber of defense, but not that many teams in the league or country play it night after night.
“That’s something we have to key in to and execute on the offensive end to be able to get out and run to combat their defense.”
The Hawkeyes have an ace in their sleeve in junior Isaiah Moss, who is enjoying the best stretch of his career. The guard has made 15 of his last 22 3-point field goal attempts to rise to first in the Big Ten in 3-point accuracy at 46.2 percent. Moss has scored more than 20 points in two of his last three games.
“I think you could see that coming with him,” said McCaffery. “His game is so much more complete than it has ever been. He always had confidence in his ability to shoot the ball, but defensively off the dribble and doing the cerebral things that complete the picture for him.”
While Moss has been lighting up the nets, his fellow backcourt mates — junior Jordan Bohannon and freshman Joe Wieskamp — have been quiet during the two-game skid. They have combined for 13 points on 4-of-18 shooting in the two losses.
“We need to get them more shots because they’re two great shooters,” said Moss. “It’s screening for them, finding them, and getting them more opportunities to shoot the ball. Once they get open shots, it is a 90 percent chance they’re going to make it. I have a lot of confidence in those guys.”
Friday is the annual Black & Gold Spirit Game. Fans are encouraged to wear black or gold clothing depending on their seat location in Carver-Hawkeye Arena