4 things to watch: Michigan basketball team returns home to face Iowa State
The Michigan basketball team can officially unpack its suitcases.
The Wolverines are home, and will be home for some time.
Including a Dec. 10 game in Auburn Hills, No. 14 Michigan will not play a game outside the state for 33 days, beginning with Saturday's home matchup against Iowa State (noon, BTN).
Here are four ways Michigan gets its month-long travel break off on the right foot:
One of the more interesting Twitter responses I got during Michigan's loss at Virginia on Tuesday had to do with the success Cavalier senior forward Mike Scott had in posting another double-double.
The tweep, a Michigan fan, pointed out how the Wolverines were making "Mike Scott look like Moses Malone."
Well, he was sort of right.
Scott had a Moses-like performance, putting up 18 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, rarely moving more than six feet from the bucket.
Virginia dominated the glass, dominated the paint, and most telling, constantly got to the foul line because of inside positioning. Fans may cry foul when they see Michigan shot 15 less free throws than Virginia, but a great deal of those foul shots came after the Cavaliers were active near the basket.
Against Iowa State, the task remains the same: Stop a player who averages a double-double. Former five-star prospect and Minnesota transfer Royce White is for real. The 6-foot-8, 270-pound power forward is averaging 14.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
And, making matters worse, the Cyclones have beaten people up on the glass this season, out-rebounding opponents 37.4-28.9.
Michigan's big-man contingent of Evan Smotrycz, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford have been pretty up-and-down this season, and the year's seven games old.
Cover the deep threat
As bad as Michigan was at limiting Virginia on the block, the Wolverines also struggled to keep the Cavaliers from getting open looks on the perimeter.
In the second half, Virginia rattled home six 3-pointers -- nearly all of them were open looks. Making matters worse, the Cavaliers were not a great 3-point shooting team entering the game (UVA is 34-for-102 on the year).
Iowa State, however, is a good deep shooting club. A very good one.
Penn State transfer Chris Babb is one of the top statistical 3-point shooters in America so far this season. His 25 3-pointers made is fourth in the country, and he's shooting a scorching 52 percent (25-for-48) from the 3-point line.
He's not the only Cyclone with accuracy from deep, though, as Tyrus McGee is 17-for-34 (50 percent). Ex-Michigan State guard Chris Allen is also a capable 3-pointer shooter (33 percent), as is Scott Christopherson (38 percent).
AnnArbor.com file photo
On paper, Michigan had a solid 3-point shooting game against Virginia, firing at 10-for-22 for the game. But a closer look softens the number just a bit.
The Wolverines went 3-for-4 in garbage time (the final 1:10), meaning they were 7-for-18 before that. And, when Virginia rattled off its 15-0 run to ice the game, Michigan went 0-for-8 from the floor.
Things got congested, and no one stuck an outside shot.
Two of Michigan's top 3-point shooters from a year ago, Stu Douglass and Matt Vogrich, are a combined 11-for-44 from deep this season.
Nowhere near good enough.
Douglass and Vogrich are good shooters, and they've had good looks this season. But nothing has fallen at a consistent rate.
If those two start becoming more consistent from deep, it opens up everything. It opens the lane for Trey Burke, it opens the block for Morgan and Horford and it opens up everything for Tim Hardaway Jr.
Have some urgency
Let's be clear on something first: the Michigan basketball team isn't in a funk. It's coming off one loss, on the road to a solid club in Virginia.
It's worth repeating: The Wolverines aren't in a funk. Yet.
Iowa State is more than capable of leaving Crisler Arena with a victory Saturday. This isn't Ferris State, Towson or Western Illinois. The Cyclones will put three Big Ten transfers on the floor, and all of them can play.
Meaning, if Michigan goes through fits and starts like it has in other less-marquee games this season, it'll be in major trouble.
There's no room for playing down to one's competition Saturday. And, it won't stop there, either.
After Iowa State, Michigan gets a week off before taking on Oakland at The Palace. The same Oakland club that features former Michigan guard Laval Lucas-Perry, and the same Oakland club that beat Tennessee by eight earlier this week.
The point is, if Michigan languishes through this Iowa State game Saturday, the seemingly cupcake-like December stretch becomes less sweet and much more salty moving forward.
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