No. 3 Michigan took another major step towards to Big Ten title on Thursday with a 79-57 victory over No. 9 Iowa in one of the biggest matchups of the season.
Two of college basketball's elite big men went at each other at the Crisler Center as Michigan's Hunter Dickinson posted 14 points with Iowa's Luka Garza putting up 16 in a loss that may have ended the Hawkeyes' bid to win the Big Ten.
The Wolverines already held a two-game lead over Iowa atop the conference standings. Now they're 17-1 (12-1 Big Ten) with four games left to play—including a contest with No. 5 Illinois that may end up deciding the league title.
Iowa (17-7, 11-6 Big Ten), has just three games left in the regular season and needs some outside help if the Hawkeyes are going to steal the banner from Michigan.
Hunter Dickinson, C, Michigan Wolverines: 14 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks
Franz Wagner, G, Michigan Wolverines: 21 points, 4 assists, 2 three-pointers
Luka Garza, C, Iowa Hawkeyes: 16 points, 4 rebounds, 6-for-19 FG
Jordan Bohannon, G, Iowa Hawkeyes: 13 points, 2 rebounds
Dickinson Dominates Garza
Dickinson and Garza appeared to swap roles Thursday.
The Michigan star played anything like a freshman while Iowa's Naismith Player of the Year candidate looked completely lost. As much as Wolverines' second-half defense was responsible for shutting down the Hawkeyes, it was Dickinson's play in the first half that completely stymied any attempt by Garza to find a rhythm.
At 7'1", 255 pounds, Dickinson was too much of a physical presence for the 6'11" Garza to maneuver around. That made most of Garza's post moves irrelevant. Anytime the Iowa senior put his back to the basket, Dickinson refused to back down, using his length to disrupt his opponent's shot attempts.
Garza shot just 3-of-11 in the first half with only two makes in the paint and no rebounds.
Instead, it was Dickinson running the floor, cutting into the lane and easily finishing layups off the glass that helped balance the Wolverines' offense.
The only hiccup with UM head coach Juwan Howard's plan came 2:30 into the second half when Garza had Dickinson on the move as he coasted into the lane, causing the big man to pick up his third foul. Howard benched Dickinson, but the damage to Iowa was already done. Because Garza didn't require a double-team with Dickinson on the floor, the rest of the Hawkeyes offense continued to lag behind their star. By the time Dickinson picked up his third foul, Michigan was able to maintain the lead without him by clamping down on their man-to-man defense.
The Hawkeyes shot just 30 percent from the floor in the second half as Franz Wagner and Dickinson kept the Wolverines rolling to their sixth straight win.
Injuries and Interruptions Hurt Iowa
Garza's play was by far the biggest factor in the loss, but it's hardly the only reason the Hawkeyes fell behind.
Playing a marquee game on the road already presented enough challenges without worrying about Garza against Dickinson. It became much tougher to focus on the other areas of the floor with such a turbulent first half.
The first 20 minutes of play saw the refs pause the action to check the monitors on four separate occasions—three of them coming in the first 14 minutes. For an Iowa team that already couldn't get rolling on offense, the disruptions only made matters worse.
Jeff Borzello @jeffborzello
Michigan's offense didn't look nearly as fluid as it did vs. Ohio State over the weekend, but the Wolverines dominated the offensive glass & Hunter Dickinson has been awesome at both ends of the floor. Luka Garza only 3-for-11 from the field; Dickinson with 8 points (and 2 fouls)
The challenge grew after Iowa sophomore forward Jack Nunge left the court with a leg injury early in the first half. The Indiana native is averaging 7.5 points and 5.6 rebounds this year. That he was unable to return to the bench is concerning not just for how the Hawkeyes played on Thursday, but their postseason chances.
Junior guard Connor McCaffrey followed Nunge to the trainers' table in the second half after his ankle rolled awkwardly. The son of head coach Fran McCaffrey initially had trouble walking off the floor but was able to jog a few minutes later. He wouldn't return to the game, regardless.
Everything appeared to work against Iowa's favor on Thursday. How the team moves forward from here will say plenty about their chances in March.
The Wolverines travel to Bloomington, Indiana to face a Hoosiers team looking to avoid its first three-game losing streak this year. Tipoff is set for noon ET on Saturday. The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, face another intense matchup, visiting No. 4 Ohio State in a 4 p.m. ET battle on CBS.