Mich-again for Iowa at Big Ten Championships


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Manny Harris sat on the bench for the first minute in overtime.

You figured he was hurt or that Michigan head coach John Beilein was going to work his star into the game somehow. But Harris, an All-Big Ten first team selection as a sophomore, just sat there as Iowa jumped out to a 70-60 advantage that wouldn’t be erased.

No comeback. No dramatics. And no Harris.

After the game, a perplexed group of reporters asked Beilein why. He said, “I didn’t think [Harris] was playing well, didn’t think he looked fresh, wasn’t himself so we decided to go another direction.”

Over the next three games, Harris, who was 3-of-13 for only nine points on that Sunday afternoon in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, has been lighting defenses up, averaging nearly 19 points per game.

Perhaps more important for Beilein, the Wolverines come into today’s 1:30 p.m. Big Ten Tournament matchup against the Hawkeyes in Indianapolis having won two out of their last three, including an impressive road win at Minnesota on March 7.

On that same day, Todd Lickliter’s squad downed Penn State, 75-67, in double overtime behind sophomore Jake Kelly’s 22-point, 11-assist performance while suffering through an illness.

If Harris has been hot the last three games, then Kelly has been downright scorching. The Carmel, Ind., native has scored 19-plus points over the last six contests, including a career-high 23 against Michigan in the teams’ last meeting. Kelly is still recovering from a sinus infection that caused him to throw up in the tunnel after halftime of the Penn State game.

“He is still probably in a recovery mode, but I am sure that by Thursday he will be ready to go,” Lickliter said at his press conference March 9. “He is a guy who just loves to play basketball and compete, and that makes it a lot of fun.”

Much of Iowa’s success against Penn State was predicated on the inside presence of senior Cyrus Tate and sophomore Jarryd Cole. Because of injuries, the two have rarely seen playing time together, but against the Nittany Lions, the duo teamed up for 29 points and 21 rebounds.

Lickliter said because Michigan is a perimeter team, it may be a challenge to put Tate and Cole together on the floor for significant minutes.

“There are some times when that is not effective for us, but it worked and they played well together and our guys did well with it,” Lickliter said. “[The Wolverines] are going to play four perimeters a lot, so it puts you in a tough spot as far as which one of those guys is going to guard out on the floor.”

Coming off a big game on Senior Day, Tate said his formerly injured ankle has recovered from 42 minutes of play on March 7.

“I feel good enough where I think I can be real effective for our team,” the Chicago native said. “I think the last game was good for me, confidence-wise, to get a flow and a rhythm, and I’ve got to carry that into the Big Ten Tournament.”

For the last six games, the Hawkeyes have been without their starting point guard, Jeff Peterson. On Monday, Peterson said his chances of playing against the Wolverines were “50-50,” adding that he didn’t want to “be a liability to the team.”

With or without Peterson, Iowa has proven down the stretch that it can contend with some of the Big Ten’s best — including Michigan, who is in dire need of a win to gain an NCAA Tournament berth.

“Anything can happen,” said freshman Matt Gatens, who’s averaging 11.1 points per game and was named to the conference’s All-Freshman team. “This program has proven in its history that you can win four games in four days and we’ve proven we can compete with all these teams. … It should be a lot of fun to see what we can do.”

Kelly agreed, noting that while the Hawkeyes are the tournament’s 10th seed, everyone in the bracket knows they have the potential to pull the upset.

“I think we’ve got a good shot,” Kelly said. “I hope people are upset to play us because I really think we can beat anybody. … It’s a neutral site, my hometown, so you never know what’s going to happen.”

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