Moments after Josh Oglesby stripped Michigan star Nik Stauskas and dove on the floor to corral the loose ball midway through Saturday's second half, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery clapped his hands and fist pumped in celebration
It was a jubilant response to a terrific hustle play and to a badly needed marquee victory.
Everything about Iowa's roster and efficiency profile screamed that the Hawkeyes were a top 15 team entering their matchup with Big Ten co-leader Michigan, but they lacked the notable wins to back that up. A convincing 85-67 rout of the Wolverines helps address that flaw in Iowa's resumé and further validates the Hawkeyes as a team that must be taken seriously as a threat to make a deep run in March.
Before Saturday's statement victory, Iowa's best wins came against a slumping Ohio State team that later avenged its loss and against Xavier and Minnesota, two teams not guaranteed to make the NCAA tournament. Five of the Hawkeyes' six losses came against teams in the RPI top 20, three of the six were in overtime and all six were by eight or fewer points.
What enabled Iowa to avoid another down-to-the-wire struggle with a strong opponent was crisp ball movement, blistering perimeter shooting and deadly transition offense.
Roy Devyn Marble torched Michigan for 22 of his 26 points in the first half, exploiting slow close-outs by the Wolverines and burying six threes to help the Hawkeyes build a 14-point halftime lead. Michigan did a better job on Marble in the second half, but Iowa flaunted its superior depth as complementary scorers like forward Aaron White, guard Mike Gesell and reserve big man Gabriel Olaseni each chipped in. Plus, it didn't hurt that the Hawkeyes gobbled up 15 offensive rebounds, five from forward Melsahn Basabe by himself.
Michigan fed Iowa's transition attack by committing 12 turnovers and hoisting 25 threes with only modest success.
Glenn Robinson II disappeared in a big game as he has been prone to do, scoring only two points on 1 of 7 shooting. Nik Stauskas endured a quiet game as well for a second straight Saturday, attempting only six shots and finishing with more turnovers (four) than assists and made field goals (three). Only 22 points from Caris LeVert and 19 from freshman Zak Irvin off the bench kept the score from getting even further out of hand.
Saturday's outcome knocks Michigan (17-6, 9-2) back to second place in the Big Ten, one half game behind a Michigan State team that the Wolverines beat in East Lansing only two weeks ago to take sole possession of first place at the time. Michigan remains the biggest threat to Michigan State, but the Wolverines desperately need Robinson to play with more consistency and Stauskas to emerge from his mini-slump.
If there's a team capable of capitalizing if the Spartans and Wolverines stumble down the stretch, it's probably Iowa, which sits alone in third place in the Big Ten at 18-6 overall and 7-4 in league play.
The Hawkeyes have long shown they can compete with the nation's best teams. On Saturday, they finally proved they can beat them too.