Wolverines can't get into zone against Hawkeyes' zone

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Michigan guard Charles Matthews drives past Iowa forward Nicholas Baer, left, during the first half.

Iowa City, Iowa — When Iowa watched film on Michigan, Hawkeyes forward Ryan Kriener thought it looked like a highlight reel.

“(Jordan) Poole has crazy handles. He's slicing through the defense, hitting 3s,” Kriener said. “(Ignas) Brazdeikis does his thing. (Jon) Teske is a monster down low.”

The Wolverines who appeared on tape never showed up in Friday’s 74-59 loss at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where No. 5 Michigan shot a season-low 32.3 percent (21-for-65) from the field.

Part of it had to do with foul trouble that forced Michigan to go deep in its bench out of necessity for the first time all season, with sophomore forward Isaiah Livers and Teske playing just 3:08 and 1:25, respectively, in the first half.

And part of it had to with Michigan struggling to hit from inside and outside against Iowa’s different defensive looks, despite the Hawkeyes ranking toward the bottom of the Big Ten in scoring defense and allowing an average of 73.6 points per game.

“I think it bothers everybody,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of Iowa’s full-court press and 2-3 zone. “You don’t see it a lot then you go down and they’re good in their zone. Their length is good in their zone and they just did some things in their zone that made it tough for us. We had to take a lot of 3s at the end.

“We didn’t get many good looks. Sometimes we didn’t position ourselves or have the patience to get good looks. The ones we did get, didn’t go in. The best looks we got were in the first half and they didn’t go in.”

The Wolverines missed 14 of their first 19 shots of the game, and it wasn’t until there was 7:02 left in the first half somebody other than Brazdeikis hit a shot outside the paint.

Even then, the jumper from Poole came during a stretch when the Hawkeyes ripped off a 21-2 run that left the Wolverines trying to shoot their way back into it and largely settling for 3-pointers due to a lack of a post play.

“We were active,” Iowa forward Luka Garza said. “We wanted to make sure they couldn't get any easy open looks. They're a tremendous shooting team, so we knew we had to bother their rhythm a little bit and I think we did a really good job of that.

"We kept it out of the high post because when it goes to the high post it really breaks down things because they can pick apart the zone and Teske does a great job of that. We saw that on film. We just tried to do that, and we were just really active and that's one of the keys why we won.”

It was the second straight game Michigan's offense was slowed by a Big Ten opponent who primarily used a zone defense and clogged up the driving lanes.

On Tuesday, Ohio State's zone frustrated the Wolverines early and it showed as they clanked 15 of their first 22 shots. Eventually, though, they were able to knock down enough open perimeter looks against the Buckeyes, connecting on 10-for-27 from 3-point range.

But against Iowa, Michigan could never dial it in. The Wolverines finished 8-for-33 from 3-point range and 9-for-21 on layup attempts.

Brazdeikis (2-for-4) was the only Wolverine to shoot better than 33 percent from deep. Poole (3-for-9), redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews (2-for-7), junior guard Zavier Simpson (0-for-5) and Livers (1-for-4) all missed at least two-thirds of their attempts.

"We have this habit of playing on the NBA 3-point line, playing really deep and shooting NBA 3s when we could possibly shoot college 3s," Beilein said. "We can't get guys to move in against a zone."

Said Simpson: "We just have to have better decision-making with a zone like that."

When asked if he expects to see more zone moving forward, Beilein said “you’d think so” but added it depends on the opponent.  

“People just don’t practice zones. We haven’t played one bit of zone,” Beilein said. “Maybe it’s good, but people say we can guard them with our man. (Iowa) has always been multi-dimensional and that’s one of the challenges, and that’s why we haven’t done very well against them.

“Today we didn’t have a great shooting day from a couple people.”

Fresh face

With Teske and Livers getting into early foul trouble, the five spot became a revolving door in the first half and led to freshman center Colin Castleton receiving his first batch of minutes that didn't come in garbage time.

“It wasn't part of game plan going in there, but we knew we needed something,” Beilein said. “Guys who come off the bench have to understand there’s a certain speed you need to play with, a certain effort you need to play with. When they don't do that then we've got to go further down the bench.

“(Castleton) had a couple good days in practice. It's better than what we were getting off the bench, so let's get him in there. If it makes everybody practice harder and nobody gets content and it gets him fired up, it’s all part of building the team.”

Beilein tried four different players at center with Teske saddled with foul trouble — freshman forward Brandon Johns Jr., redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis, Livers and Castleton. None of the results were great.

Beilein was blunt and said it shined an unfavorable light on backup situation.

“We can't find a backup five,” he said.

Slam dunks

Iowa’s bench dominated Michigan’s in terms of production. The Hawkeyes had four players combine for 24 points (8-for-13 shooting) in 69 minutes, while the Wolverines had seven players combine for three points (1-for-11 shooting) in 51 minutes.  

"It was huge. A bunch of guys stepped up and really helped us,” Garza said. “Our bench players in practice give us a run for our money every single day.”

…Iowa’s 74 points are the most Michigan has allowed in Big Ten play and second most this season (78 against South Carolina).


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins