The Big Ten serves up a top 10 matchup on Thursday night when No. 9 Iowa travels to conference leader, No. 3 Michigan. What’s the best bet to place tonight at SBR’s top rated sportsbooks? Here’s our NCAAB pick.
Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines
Thursday, February 25, 2021 – 07:00 PM EST at Crisler Center
The Hawkeyes are fourth in the Big Ten at 11-5, 17-6 overall. The Hawkeyes had a mid-January glitch—after starting the year 12-2, 6-1, Iowa lost four of five. Iowa seems to have straightened things out since then, winning its last four games, including a 15-point win at Wisconsin and a 30-point road blowout of Michigan State.
Michigan also had a mid-January glitch, losing its only game of the season at Minnesota. The Wolverines have won five straight since, moving to 16-1, 11-1 on the season. That winning streak includes a 23-day break due to COVID testing and tracing. The Wolverines have been playing regularly since Valentine’s Day, however, and should be on their game for the showdown with Iowa.
This is the first time the Hawkeyes and Wolverines have played with both teams ranked in the Top Ten since Feb. 9, 1989. That game was a 108-107 double-overtime epic won by Michigan, who went on to cut down the nets as national champions two months later. Both teams are capable of matching the excitement and production of that game 32 years ago, and both certainly have the potential to match Michigan’s 1989 national title this April.
Back On Track
Iowa’s slump from last month coincided with a leg injury by guard C.J. Fredrick. The sophomore was hitting half of his three-point attempts and averaging 9.8 ppg before the leg injury caused him to miss four games and leave at halftime of two other contests after attempting to play through the pain. Fredrick has played 31 and 28 minutes in the last two games and hit 4-of-7 from three for 18 points last time out, against Penn State, so he appears to be back on his game.
Missing a key outside shooter for so long forced Iowa to alter its game plan in a change that might pay dividends as the Hawkeyes push for a national title. Dependent all year on the best offense in the country, Iowa used Fredrick’s absence to spend more time and effort on the defensive end. They’ve held five straight Big Ten opponents below 70 points after doing it just twice in the first 11 conference games. Iowa has also held three of the last five foes below 41 percent effective shooting and all five below 50 percent. Meanwhile, the offense has been clicking along as good as before. Iowa has hit 45-of-92, .489, from three over the last four games.
Michigan and Iowa played a pair of shootouts last year, combining for 367 points scored in the two games. This year’s contest looks to be lower scoring. As mentioned, Iowa has turned up the screws on the defense end of late, and Michigan is one of the nation’s top defensive teams, ranking No. 16 in efficiency and No. 5 in effective shooting defense.
The battle on the perimeter could help decide the game. Iowa has been red hot from outside in recent games, with several teammates joining Fredrick in lighting it up from three.
“Their 3-point weapons are extraordinary,” Michigan assistant Phil Martelli said. “If you look at their last five games, a kid like (Joe) Wieskamp is shooting 59 percent. … Connor McCaffery’s shooting 60 percent, and he’s the guy who ‘can’t shoot’ on their team. The kid Keegan Murray off the bench is shooting 71 percent in their last five games from three.” The Wolverines had allowed five straight opponents to shoot a combined 19-of-80, .238 from three before getting torched for 11-of-22 by Ohio State in Sunday’s game.
In addition to having to control Iowa’s perimeter attack, Michigan will depend on Hunter Dickinson, one of the top freshmen in the nation, to keep national player of the year favorite Luca Garza under control on the inside. Dickinson and the Michigan D are more than capable of accomplishing each task. Getting both of them done for 40 minutes might be tough, however. Look for Garza to use his experience, and his familiarity with his former AAU teammate, Dickinson, to get the freshman in foul trouble and for Iowa to threaten a road upset while covering the five-point spread.
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.