By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Much has changed since I attended college in the mid-1980s, but the attraction to Thursday night still is the same now as it was back then.
Or, so I’m told.
Thursday nigh is sort of the unofficial start to the weekend in college, and that is exactly how it was 35 years ago.
Where am I headed with this you’re probably wondering?
The Iowa men’s basketball team faces Michigan at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in a game that could have serious postseason ramifications for both teams.
Iowa and Michigan are both currently tied in the Big Ten with 7-6 conference records, but Iowa has a better overall record at 17-7, while the Wolverines are just 13-10 overall.
Iowa will also have homecourt advantage on Thursday, but how much of an advantage could depend on how many Iowa students attend the game.
To say that the student turnout for last Sunday’s 98-75 victory over Nebraska was disappointing would be an understatement. The student section was mostly empty for a game that started at approximately 1 p.m. on Sunday.
The Super Bowl being played on the same day was almost certainly a factor, but the Iowa-Nebraska game also ended about 2 1/2 hours before the Super Bowl started.
Iowa still won easily against Nebraska despite the lack of student support, but Michigan is at a different level than Nebraska.
Michigan hasn’t lived up to preseason expectations, but Juwan Howard’s team still is talented and dangerous.
The question with Michigan is which Michigan team will show up on Thursday?
The one that dismantled Purdue 82-58 last Thursday in Ann Arbor, Michigan?
Or the one that lost at home to lowly Minnesota 75-65 in December?
The one that pummeled Nebraska 102-67 in early December in Lincoln?
Or the one that lost at Rutgers 75-67 in early January?
Michigan has been consistently inconsistent throughout the season.
But if the good Michigan team shows up on Thursday, Iowa could be in trouble.
That’s why having a strong homecourt advantage could be crucial to Iowa’s success. But that’s nearly impossible without having a strong turnout from the students.
Thursday’s game is the first of three for Iowa in a six-day stretch. Iowa will travel to Ohio State for a 1:30 p.m. game on Saturday before hosting Michigan State on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Michigan just completed a stretch of four games in eight days with a 68-57 loss to Ohio State last Saturday at home.
The Wolverines feature one of the top post players in the conference in 7-foot-1 sophomore Hunter Dickinson. He will have about a 4-inch height advantage against 6-9 Iowa forward Filip Rebraca.
Dickinson earned second-team All-America honors from the Associated Press last season, and also was selected as the Big Ten freshman of the year and made first-team all-conference.
“I love his game,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “That’s why I recruited him so hard. I’ve watched him since he was a young kid and have thought a lot of him since that time.”
This is a critical stretch for Iowa with three consecutive games against what are considered quality opponents.
Iowa currently doesn’t have a quad-1 win, and time is running out to correct that blemish.
The fact that Thursday’s game starts at 6 p.m. rather than 8 p.m., or even later, could help get more fans, including students, in the seats.
The game should be over in plenty of time for the students to still have fun on a Thursday night.
Iowa also has won three games in a row, has combined to score 208 points in the last two games, and is led by one of the best players in the country in 6-8 sophomore forward Keegan Murray.
The son of former Iowa basketball player Kenyon Murray is the only player in the country currently averaging at least 23 points and eight rebounds per game.
“His confidence level has definitely risen from last season,” said Michigan coach Juwan Howard. “He’s been able to score on the outside as well as on the inside. And he’s comfortable putting the ball on the floor and creating his own shot.”
Keegan Murray also has learned to play without Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp, both of whom are now in the NBA after being Iowa’s top two scorers from last season.
Keegan Murray was a top reserve for the Hawkeyes last season.
“And so now this year a lot of the offensive load is on his shoulders and he’s accepted that responsibility by putting in the work from the experience he received last year in getting playing time, and over the summertime with all the player development that I’m sure that he’s probably been involved with within the program,” Howard said. “You can see that in games, he just looks so comfortable out there.”
Michigan vs. Iowa
When: Thursday, 6:01 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
Records: Michigan is 7-6 in the Big Ten and 13-10 overall. Iowa is 7-6 and 17-7.
All-time series: Michigan holds a 97-65 edge in the series. The Wolverines won the only meeting last season, 79-57, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Iowa owns a 40-37 edge in games played in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes hold a 19-14 advantage in games played in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa won the last time these two teams met in Iowa City: 90-83 on Jan. 17, 2020. Four of the last 10 Iowa-Michigan games played in Iowa City have gone to overtime, dating back to 2009.