The rule of the Big Ten this season is that any team can show up on a given day, and anything is truly possible on a given day. Earlier today, the Northwestern Wildcats ended Michigan State's unbeaten run through the conference and handed the 6th ranked Spartans a stunning 81-74 loss. Iowa, which had somehow won AT Wisconsin and Minnesota, faced a pretty confident Michigan team and proceeded to trounce John Beilein's Wolverines, 75-59.
Statistically, both Michigan and Michigan State had a lot go wrong at a time when Iowa and Northwestern were getting things right. So...Why did both Michigan teams lose?
Well, the Michigan St. Spartans simply missed too many free throws and turned the ball over too many times. On 27 free throw attempts, the Spartans came up empty 10 times. Tom Izzo's Spartans still remained in the game thanks to 50% shooting from beyond the arc and 14 offensive rebounds, along with 46% field goal shooting, but Northwestern would not go away. The Wildcats shot 47% from beyond the arc and 50% from the floor, making 21 of their 29 free throw attempts.
Despite outrebounding Northwestern 39 to 27, the Spartans just couldn't pull off a road win thanks to missed free throws and 42 combined points from John Shurna and Drew Crawford. Davide Curletti added 17 points for the Wildcats, who came away with their first upset win over a ranked opponent this season (The Wildcats lost in their previous 4 opportunities).
Keyon Appling tried his hardest to keep Michigan State afloat, and ultimately led the Spartans in scoring with 17 points. Unfortunately for the Spartans, Appling failed to make any of his shots from 3-point range (going 0 for 5) and was 4 of 13 from the floor on the afternoon. Appling had as many turnovers as he had assists (3), and needed 13 attempts from the free throw line to make it to 17 points (Appling would miss 4 of his 13 free throw attempts).
The ever-dependable Draymon Green ultimately kept Michigan State in the game, as he made 4 of his 5 shots from beyond the arc and finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds, but no other Michigan State player broke double-figures in rebounding or scoring. Branden Dawson and Brandon Wood contributed 18 points between them, and Travis Trice added 7 of his own, but with Appling misfiring and Northwestern shooting 50% from the floor, it simply wasn't enough for the Spartans to come out ahead in Evanston.
Michigan went into Iowa City having lost their only other Big Ten road game of the season (at Indiana, 73-71), but were 4-1 in the Big Ten thanks to victories in every single game in Ann Arbor. On the road, however, the Wolverines fell behind quickly, allowing the Iowa Hawkeyes to take an 11-point lead on the Wolverines at the half. Iowa kept pace with the Wolverine offense in the 2nd half en route to a 75-59 win. Michigan jacked up 31 attempts from beyond the arc and only 8 went through, putting the Wolverines in a hard place with 25.8% shooting from outside. Iowa had twice as many assists as Michigan (18 to 9),and the Hawkeyes converted 71% of their free throw attempts (20 of 29). Michigan was iffy at the line (11 of 17) and seemed downright determined to take shot after shot from long range, only for nothing to go through.
Tim Hardaway Jr.'s brutal night didn't help matters, as he missed 3 of his 8 free throw attempts and failed to reach double-figures scoring (thanks to shooting 2 of 13 from the floor and 0 for 8 from beyond the arc). Zack Novak and Trey Burke tried to keep Michigan in the game, adding 14 and a team-high 17 points between them, respectively. With both Jordan Morgan (4 personal fouls, 4 points, 4 rebounds, 2 turnovers) and Hardaway Jr. ineffective as ever, the Wolverines were almost in a sinking condition from the beginning, especially once you consider the fact that they had more turnovers (10) than assists (9).
Iowa had 4 players in double figures, and ultimately needed to spread the wealth in order to keep Michigan off-balance. Zach McCabe, Roy Devyn Marble, Aaron White, and Matt Gatens combined for 55 of Iowa's 75 points and contributed significantly to Iowa's rebounding advantage (the Hawkeyes had 39 rebounds to Michigan's 30). Eric May and McCabe tied for the team lead in rebounds, with 7 each, and Bryce Cartwright played the role of distributor quite well, finishing with a team-high 5 assists. The Hawkeyes had 8 steals on the afternoon, which helped them to record their first conference win in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa: At Purdue (January 17th, 8:00 PM EST)
Michigan: vs. Michigan State (January 17th, 7:00 PM EST)
Michigan State: At Michigan (January 17th, 7:00 PM EST)
Northwestern: At Wisconsin (January 18th, 8:00 PM CST)