Iowa (11-5 ATS, 11-4 O/U at sportsbooks) hasn't reached an NCAA Tournament since 2006 or won a game in the Big Dance since 2001 but the Hawkeyes could be a dangerous team come March. Fran McCaffery has to be on any shortlist for National Coach of the Year honors even though he was suspended one game by the Big Ten earlier this month for an outburst and ejection in a loss at Wisconsin.
McCaffery has the Hawkeyes playing fast -- according to Kenpom.com, Iowa's average offensive possession length of just 14.3 seconds is behind only BYU and Northeastern this season. It seems to be catching the Big Ten by surprise because that conference is more known for physical, slow-it-down basketball and low-scoring games (i.e. many under totals for sports bettors). Iowa ranks No. 3 nationally in scoring at 86.8 points per game and third on Kenpom's national adjusted offensive efficiency rating at 120.7 points per 100 possessions (Duke No. 1, Creighton No. 2).
Iowa's star has a name likely familiar to Big Ten fans from the mid-to-late 1980s as his name is Roy Devyn Marble, the son of former Iowa legend Roy Marble. The younger Marble, a senior, is averaging his fewest minutes per game (27.3) since his freshman year but also averaging a career-high 16.3 points. He put up 27 in a Jan. 5 loss at then-No. 4 Wisconsin and 22 in a Jan. 12 win at then-No. 3 Ohio State.
This game should tell a bit about how good Iowa actually might be. The Hawkeyes' lone win over a team ranked at the team was those Buckeyes, and Ohio State has been exposed as a fraud, losing at awful Nebraska on Monday for its fourth straight defeat. Otherwise Iowa's best win might be over Xavier.
Michigan (8-6-1 ATS, 8-6-1 O/U on NCAA basketball odds) of course was last year's national runner-up and was expected to continue for another national title this season despite losing both National Player of the Year Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. as first-round NBA draft picks. A big reason for the high hopes was the return of big man Mitch McGary, who also would have been a first-round pick had he left school early. He blossomed big time in the NCAA Tournament and was a preseason All-American. However, McGary is likely done for the season following back surgery. His last game was a 72-70 loss to No. 1 Arizona on Dec. 14.
Instead of going in the tank with the McGary news, Michigan has won seven straight without him (six covers, one push for sports bettors). Again, though, the schedule wasn't all that tough. The only ranked team among those wins was No. 3 Wisconsin on Saturday and now the Badgers look somewhat like a fraud as well.
Sharpshooting sophomore guard Nik Stauskas has really emerged in McGary's absence. Stauskas was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 22.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists last week. He leads the team and Big Ten at 18.0 points per game, a jump of seven points from last season. The Wolverines are 19th nationally in shooting percentage at .488 and they need to be good there because without McGary they don't have much size or presence in the frontcourt and are a terrible rebounding team.
Michigan has won 10 of the past 12 meetings and four in a row at home. Last season the lone game was in Ann Arbor and Michigan rolled 95-67 as a 13-point favorite on NCAA basketball odds. Iowa has covered on NCAA basketball picks just once in its past six trips to Michigan.
NCAA basketball free pick: Michigan -1.5. Iowa is just 1-2 in true road games this season, while the Wolverines' only home loss (5-1 ATS there at sportsbooks) was to top-ranked Arizona in a game they could have and perhaps should have won.