No. 19 Michigan looks for bigs to step up at Iowa

NCAA Men's Basketball
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Big men keep enjoying big games against Michigan.

The 19th-ranked Wolverines may change their defensive strategy in their rematch against Iowa on Friday in Iowa City. They’ll be seeking their first Big Ten road victory after losing 75-67 at Minnesota on Sunday following earlier defeats at Illinois and Michigan State.

The Golden Gophers’ center, Daniel Oturu, torched the Wolverines for a career-best 30 points one game after Michigan survived a double-overtime thriller despite a career-high 36 points from Purdue power forward Trevion Williams.

Michigan (11-5, 2-3 Big Ten) defeated Iowa 103-91 in the conference opener for both clubs on Dec. 6 despite a career-high 44 points from Iowa center Luka Garza.

“Bigs have done a phenomenal job scoring against us,” Michigan head coach Juwan Howard recently told reporters.

Howard’s defensive philosophy is to limit perimeter shooters, which leaves the Wolverines’ big men on an island to defend their man. It hasn’t helped that starting forward Isaiah Livers has sat out this month due to a groin injury.

“We’re just playing them one on one,” Michigan center Jon Teske said. “(We want) to take away their 3-point shooting ability. In the Big Ten, we’ve got a lot of great 3-point shooters.”

From that standpoint, the Wolverines’ scheme has worked. Opponents are shooting just 29 percent from long range. But the tradeoff has become increasingly apparent.

“Obviously, a lot of it is on me,” Teske said. “I’ve still got to get stops. I’ve still got to stay accountable for a lot of those points that I’m giving up. I’ve got to do a better job of helping my teammates.”

Garza, a junior, is a tough cover for any of his peers. He’s averaging 22.3 points and 10.4 rebounds.

While setting an opponent’s scoring record at Crisler Center, Garza made 17 of 32 field goal attempts and 10 of 13 free throws.

The Hawkeyes (12-5, 3-3) have won their past two games with Garza playing a large role, as he contributed 21 points and 13 rebounds against Maryland (67-49 on Jan. 10) and 27 points in 24 minutes against Northwestern (75-62 on Tuesday).

Teske will be the primary defender on him once again.

“I’ve just got to be more aggressive down low. … There’s a lot of good Big Ten centers, and I’ve just got to be ready to play every night,” Teske told the Detroit Free Press.

Garza did most of his damage against the Wildcats in the second half.

“It’s the ultimate confidence I have in myself,” Garza said. “Every time I touch the ball, I have the ability to score or make the right play. … I feel like I can score on anybody.”

Garza came out of the game in the opening minute of the second half after picking up his third foul, then erupted after he returned at the 11:45 mark.

“He was fresh and got up and down floor,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “We made a concerted effort to get it to him. The more we got it to him, the better he was.”

Hawkeyes guard CJ Fredrick returned to action Tuesday after missing two games with a foot injury. He added 11 points and five assists.

“He looked like he didn’t miss a beat,” McCaffery said. “If he’s good to go, he’s going to be in our starting lineup.”

–Field Level Media

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