By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – At least, the circumstances are in place for the Iowa men’s basketball team to pull off an upset against fifth-ranked Michigan on Friday.
For starters, the game is a sellout and the polar vortex finally will have loosened its frozen grip by Friday’s 6 p.m. tip-off at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Michigan also played a game on Tuesday against Ohio State, so its players will have had just two days to prepare for Iowa, whereas the Hawkeyes will be rested after having not played since this past Sunday.
Iowa shooting guard Isaiah Moss is also on fire from 3-point range, having made 15-of-22 treys over the last four games, while sophomore center Luka Garza has scored at least 20 points in each of the past four games.
If ever there was a time for Iowa to get a signature win, it’s Friday’s game against Michigan.
Because if the Hawkeyes don’t win on Friday, their chance to get a true signature win would end there unless you consider Maryland and Wisconsin worthy of signature-win status, but that’s highly debatable.
Maryland and Wisconsin are ranked 21st and 24th, respectively, in the Associated Press poll, which means they’re both one loss from probably not being ranked.
The others five teams on Iowa's remaining schedule are all unranked at this point. Iowa still plays Indiana twice, but the Hoosiers have lost seven games in a row.
Michigan, on the other hand, has signature win written all over it.
A victory over the Wolverines would be the next step for Iowa because it would show that Iowa is capable of defeating a quality Big Ten opponent.
Iowa had a similar opportunity against Michigan State on Jan. 24 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and flirted with an upset until the Spartans went on a 24-2 scoring run in the second half and then cruised to an 82-67 victory.
Michigan State is a worse matchup for Iowa than Michigan because the Spartans are more physical on both ends of the floor and Iowa seems to unravel against the physicality.
The Hawkeyes are a respectable 16-5 overall and 5-5 in the Big Ten, but their five Big Ten victories were against teams with a combined record of 11-37 in conference play.
Iowa’s best win so far was against an Iowa State team that was missing star guard Lindell Wigginton and forward Cameron Lard.
Iowa also has victories over Oregon, Connecticut and Pittsburgh, which looks good until you look closer and realize that all three of those teams have a losing record in conference play, including Pittsburgh at 2-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
It is time for this Iowa team to make a statement and to give fans reason to hope that this season still could be special.
It is time for junior forward Tyler Cook to show his true value against an elite opponent. The 6-foot-9 Cook scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the loss at Minnesota, but he also had a costly turnover late in the game and shot an air ball on a free throw attempt late in the second half.
And it's time for junior point guard Jordan Bohannon to get back on track offensively. He only took three shots against Minnesota and that's about 10 fewer shots than he should take in a game.
The Wolverines will present a huge challenge from a tactical standpoint and from a talent standpoint.
Michigan head coach John Beilein is one of the best in the business and his teams rarely self-destruct on offense and they almost always perform well on defense.
"The thing that impresses me about them is they play with an incredibly high confidence level," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Michigan on Thursday. "They believe in each other, they believe in themselves, they believe in the coaches.
"Anybody can go one-on-one at any time but stay within the structure and move the ball, compete defensively. There is no panic in what they do, so they're not susceptible to runs. They kind of stay consistent, but each of their players plays with tremendous amount of confidence, and it was noticeable to me.
Iowa, on the other hand, has no trouble scoring points, but its defense is starting to get exposed again, much like last season.
Minnesota shredded Iowa for 55 points in the first half last Sunday and then held on to win 92-87 in Minneapolis.
A team that scores 87 points should have enough points to prevail, even with an average performance on defense.
However, Iowa’s performance on defense against Minnesota was way below average and a similar performance against Michigan would almost certainly lead to defeat.
The stage is set for Iowa to achieve a milestone win on Friday. The players are determined to show that last season was a fluke and have made considerable progress in that regard.
But now it's time to take the next step by earning a signature win.