March 22, 2019

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No. 10 Michigan begins quest for Big Ten tourney three-peat

Mar 15, 2019 | ,

Michigan coach John Beilein had his team ready to play at a high level entering the Big Ten tournament the past two seasons.

This time, the No. 10 Wolverines will try to shake off a disappointing end to the regular season when they play sixth seed Iowa in the quarterfinals on Friday night. The Hawkeyes romped past 11th-seeded Illinois 83-62 on Thursday night.

The Wolverines (26-5) have won the tournament the past two seasons, first as the eighth seed and then as a fifth seed.

They'll try to defend their title as the third seed at Chicago's United Center. They were denied the opportunity to enter as the top seed by rival Michigan State, as the Spartans defeated them twice in the past four games, including the regular-season finale. Michigan State rallied for a 75-63 victory on its home floor Saturday night, outscoring the Wolverines 46-28 in the second half.

Michigan won its first 17 games but saw its offense stall at times in conference play. The Wolverines scored 70 or fewer points in their five conference losses.

"Beginning of the year, we were playing well," center Jon Teske recently told the Detroit Free Press. "We're trying to get back to that a little bit. I see it in practice. I know what we're capable of doing, when we're knocking down shots, getting out in transition and running, getting stops. I see it every day in practice and we've just got to turn that over in the games, as well."

The return of senior forward Charles Matthews should provide a spark. Matthews missed the last three games with a right ankle sprain but practiced in full this week.

"We'll be ready whether he plays or not, but in the last couple of practices, he's been looking actually pretty good," Teske said. "Getting back in shape, and he's been doing his regular stuff that he always does."

Michigan will likely be a No. 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, it used the conference championship as a springboard to the Final Four and national title game.

The Wolverines come into this weekend with a bigger target on their backs.

"The last couple of years, we've had a great edge about us going into this tournament because of the fact that we probably had to win a game or two to be sure we were in (the NCAA Tournament)," Beilein said. "One of the very few good things about our loss last Saturday was I believe it's provided that edge back again, to a team that's had a season like we've had, (that) goes into a tournament with real goals other than, 'Wouldn't it be nice to win the tournament?'"

The Hawkeyes (22-10) stumbled into the tournament, losing their last four regular-season games.

In the lone regular-season meeting, Iowa handed Michigan its second loss of the season 74-59 with forward Luka Garza scoring 19 points.

"They're a tremendous team with a tremendous coach," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said in a postgame TV interview. "They really defend and execute on offense. It takes a great effort to beat them."

Iowa piled up 25 assists and committed just eight turnovers in its confidence-building win over Illinois.

"It's a coach's dream," McCaffery said. "We really moved it. We made great decisions. ... When we're sharing the ball, that's when we're at our best."

--Field Level Media

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