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Hawks prep for elite Wolverines

[ 0 ] January 5, 2013 |

April 3, 2007, was a significant day for the men’s basketball programs at Iowa and Michigan because in both cases it marked the beginning of a new coaching era.

Todd Lickliter and John Beilein were both introduced on that spring day almost six years ago as the new coaches at Iowa and Michigan, respectively.

It was the start of two journeys that would have little in common.

Lickliter only lasted through three consecutive losing seasons at Iowa before being fired. He now is the coach at Marian University, a NAIA school in Indianapolis.

Beilein, on the other hand, has lifted Michigan back to elite status in his sixth season as coach.

The Wolverines will bring a 14-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking into Sunday’s game against Iowa at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan is coming off an impressive 94-66 victory at Northwestern on Thursday and also is off to its best start since the 1985-86 season.

Perimeter shooters, post-up players, top-notch defenders, experienced players, you name it and Michigan has it, including arguably the nation’s top point guard in sophomore Trey Burke.

“It’s a very difficult team to prepare for on both sides, essentially,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who was to replace Lickliter in late March 2010.

This will be Iowa’s second consecutive game against a top-five opponent, with the Hawkeyes losing to No. 5 Indiana 69-65 this past Monday in the Big Ten opener at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

And though the preparation for teams like Michigan and Indiana is difficult, McCaffery tries to be consistent with his approach to every game.

“It’s no different than if we were playing our previous two games against South Carolina State and Coppin State,” McCaffery said. “We lock into what we need to do to get better and then we lock into what we think we need to do to beat that team.

“In my estimation, there is no other way to do it.”

Figuring out a way to deal with the 6-foot Burke is a major part of the preparation.

McCaffery has been impressed with Burke ever since he saw him on the recruiting trail shortly after being hired at Iowa. Burke had just recently de-committed from Penn State at the time and was exploring other options.

McCaffery tried to recruit Burke to be a Hawkeye, but the Columbus, Ohio, native signed with Michigan instead.

Burke now leads Michigan in scoring with an 18.1 per-game average and is shooting 53.8 percent from the field, including 40.9 percent from 3-point range. He also leads the Wolverines with 101 assists and 19 steals.

“To me, he was elite at that time,” McCaffery said of when he first saw Burke in high school. “He was always the best guard on the floor every time. I mean every time I watched him he was the best guard on the floor. And he had the ability to run an offense, make plays in transition and make plays in half court and he was a tremendous scorer.

“Those guys are hard to find. You have scorers and you’ve got playmakers, typically, but when you have a guy that is exceptional in both areas, that changes everything when you’re preparing to play that team. And that’s what I saw in him. I saw a guy that was going to be a superstar.”

Burke is hardly a solo act, though.

Tim Hardaway Jr. averages 16.2 points per game and four other Michigan players are averaging from 13.6 to 5.6 points per game.

Freshman Nic Stauskas is one of the top 3-point shooters in the Big Ten, having made 41-of-76 attempts this season. Stauskas, Burke and Hardaway have combined to make 93 3-point baskets this season.

Iowa, meanwhile, has only made 81 3-point baskets as a team.

Both teams like to push the pace on offense and McCaffery knows his team could be vulnerable to a Michigan run. The Wolverines are averaging 81.1 points per game and allowing just 59.0 points on defense.

“Obviously, you have to be careful, especially when you’re on their floor, to push the tempo to the point where they end up on a run and not us,” McCaffery said. “A lot of times just because you run doesn’t mean you’re going to shoot it quick.

“But you’ve got to be able to attack their defense early because their half-court defense is that good.”

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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