Iowa Basketball: Prediction for make-or-break game against Michigan

The Iowa basketball team has a chance to make a huge statement against Michigan on Thursday night. Here’s a prediction and preview of the game.

Can the No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes (17-6) knock off the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (16-1) on Thursday evening at the Crisler Center? That is the question on the minds of the entire Hawkeye fanbase less than 24 hours from tipoff.

A win for the Hawkeyes would be a big step in the right direction toward securing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A loss likely means Fran McCaffery and Co. can do no better than a No. 2 seed.

Fresh off a double-digit win over Penn State this past weekend, Iowa is in spectacular form as of late. The Hawks have won four in a row, all by at least 13 points. Joe Wieskamp is playing the best basketball of his career, Luka Garza just became the program’s all-time scoring leader and, perhaps most notably, CJ Fredrick appears to be healthy.

The combination of those three things has sparked hope for fans that the Hawkeyes have a chance, no matter how small, of securing a No. 1 seed. But first, Iowa will have to go through Michigan, which may be the Hawkeyes’ biggest test since the team played Gonzaga back in December.

The Wolverines have had a rollercoaster of a season thanks to covid protocols and have only played 17 games, by far the least amount in the Big Ten. Still, Michigan shouldn’t be taken lightly. Coach Juwan Howard’s team boasts an 11-1 record in conference play this season, with their only loss coming in a shocker against Minnesota back on Jan. 16.

Statistically speaking, the Wolverines like to slow down the pace of the game. They rank 218th in adjusted tempo, while the Hawkeyes rank 104th. Each possession will be crucial for the Hawkeyes, especially if they fall behind.

This game will likely come down to Iowa’s performance on the defensive end of the floor. Everyone knows the Hawks are elite offensively, ranking 1st in adjusted offensive efficiency by KenPom. On the flip side, Iowa ranks 75th in defensive efficiency. That’s a stark contrast from Michigan, which ranks 5th and 11th, respectively.

As of Wednesday evening, the Hawkeyes are a 4.5-point underdog. The over/under is set at 156.5 points. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives Iowa a 48.7 percent chance of winning.

Finally, the matchup everyone will be salivating over is Luka Garza against freshman Hunter Dickinson, who leads the Wolverines in both points (15.0) and rebounds (7.8). Which big man will come out on top?

Michigan vs. Iowa prediction

Michigan 82, Iowa 77. If Iowa is able to hold Michigan to under 80 points, I can see them pulling off the upset. In all likelihood, this result will come down to Iowa’s defensive efficiency. Unfortunately, I don’t see the Hawkeyes prevailing against arguably the most well-rounded team in college basketball.