On Sunday afternoon, Michigan ventured into hostile territory to play its instate rival. The Wolverines scrapped and clawed to force the game into overtime behind phenomenal games from backcourt players Spike Albrecht and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. It's hard to decide whether it's more impressive that two under-recruited players led the Wolverines throughout on Sunday, or how the rest of the active roster on Sunday was put together. Joining Spike and MAAR in the starting lineup were seldom used big man Max Bielfeldt, who has become an offensive force this season, lightly recruited wing Aubrey Dawkins, and Zak Irvin, who many could argue has been the most disappointing of the five. The bench continues to be slim, as Kam Chatman continues to struggle, Ricky Doyle continues to recover from illness, and the only two other players are walk-ons Andrew Dakich and Sean Lonergan. Say what you will about Michigan, but they're fighters.
While the Wolverines dropped a heartbreaker on Sunday, Thursday is another game that gives Michigan a huge chance to keep their tournament hopes alive against Iowa. The Hawkeyes are 4-4 in the Big Ten, and like a slew of other Big Ten teams, are competing for the vaunted crown of second place behind Wisconsin.
Iowa has some excellent players, and we'll break down the most important matchups to look for.
Point Guard: Mike Gesell vs. Spike Albrecht- This one should be a fascinating matchup of two small, white, undersized point guards that both look like JV players rather than Division I players. It feels like both Gesell and Albrecht have been around their respective programs forever, and both have had their moments to shine throughout their careers. While both are excellent passers, Gesell is more of a slasher and driver, and Albrecht is a better outside shooter. Both are keys to their team's success on Thursday, and this matchup could dictate who wins.
Shooting Guard: Iowa vs. MAAR: While Iowa has a tremendous amount of depth at the off guard position, Michigan has virtually none. MAAR should see the majority of the minutes at this position, and should be fresh given his lack of playing time at the beginning of the season. He has become Michigan's best rim attacker over the last few weeks, and responded with a brilliant game at Michigan State. On the flip side, Iowa has 3 or 4 guys they can throw at you. Peter Jok generally starts at this spot, but Josh Oglesby, Anthony Clemmons and even Trey Dickerson are all capable of playing 15-20 minutes. Look for Coach Fran McCaffrey to play the most effective player on Thursday, but whoever it is should have their hands full with MAAR.
Forward: Aaron White vs. Zak Irvin: Arguably the two most talented players on their respective teams, White and Irvin have uniquely different games. While White does most of his damage on mid-range jumpers and offensive rebounds, Irvin is simply put a shooter. White is taller at 6'8, but Irvin will look to get shots off the dribble to exploit White. If White can bully Irvin on the boards, Michigan could be in for a long day and will look to switch Aubrey Dawkins or even Ricky Doyle on White for stretches.
Overall: Thursday is a huge game for both teams. Iowa is desperately seeking a road win, and Michigan is looking to keep their head above water despite countless illnesses and injuries. The Big Ten has 4 or 5 teams squarely on the bubble or working their way toward the bubble, and both teams in Thursday's tilt fit this profile. If Iowa can crash the boards and Aaron White can establish himself early, Iowa has a good shot to win. But if Michigan can get production out of MAAR, Albrecht, Irvin and maybe a surprise lift from Ricky Doyle or Max Bielfeldt, the Wolverines will give themselves a shot at a much needed victory.