Iowa (12-5) vs. Wisconsin (13-4)
Date: January 19, 2013
Time: 7:00 pm CT
Location: Carver Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
Line: Iowa -1
There's a lot to digest in this game. There are two teams coming off breakthrough wins -- Wisconsin's more prominent than Iowa's, sure -- and quickly ascending the rankings. There is the Chris Street anniversary, which might not have an effect on the players but will certainly bring the best out of a Saturday night crowd at Carver Hawkeye Arena (the game is a sellout, and ticket prices are in triple-digits on StubHub). There is Bo Ryan, recently anointed as Iowa's favorite basketball villain after the Jared Uthoff transfer controversy. There is Iowa's surprising success against Wisconsin last season.
More than any of that, there is the contrast in styles. Iowa is the Big Ten's fastest-playing team, playing just slightly faster than Indiana. Wisconsin, as always, is one of the nation's slowest outfits, with a Kenpom tempo statistic ranked last in the conference and 312th nationally. There is Iowa's press defense against Wisconsin's ball control offense; the Badgers are first nationally in turnover percentage. There are Wisconsin's bombers, including the other character in the Bo Ryan-Fran McCaffery soap opera, Ben Brust, against an Iowa defense allowing just 28.3 percent shooting from behind the arc. The Badgers don't shoot a particularly high percentage (just 44 percent overall), they don't distribute the ball particularly well, and they are surprisingly horrendous from the free throw line. They rebound exceptionally at both ends of the court (particularly so on defense), run the shot clock down to nothing, and avoid turnovers.
Wisconsin is getting 12.9 ppg and 6.3 rpg from Jared Berggren, but he only scored 5 against Indiana and the Badgers still won, so it's not as if he's crucial to their success. Ryan Evans is still doing his 11-point, 8-board thing, and Ben Brust is throwing in 10.9 ppg and 6.1 rpg while leading the team with 3.1 assists per contest. Brust and Sam Dekker are the Badgers' primary outside scoring threats, with both shooting around 40 percent from behind the arc. They run seven players in heavy rotation, with another two used sporadically.
Where there is not a contrast is on the other side of the ball. Opponents score 78.2 percent of their points against the Wisconsin defense on two-point shots or free throws, the highest percentage in the Big Ten and third-highest among major conference teams (only Kansas State and Tennessee allow a higher percentage). Iowa is one of the nation's worst outside shooting teams, and the Hawkeyes have the size to match up with Wisconsin's mashers inside. In other words, Aaron White, Melsahn Basabe, and Adam Woodbury could decide this game.
Wisconsin's win at Indiana showed that the Badgers win when the Badgers dictate tempo. The mighty Hoosiers, which had scored 66 or more points in every game and 80 or more in 13 of their 16 games, fell victim to Wisconsin's style. When the shots stopped falling -- Indiana shot just 40.5 percent in that game -- there weren't enough possessions left to win. Contrast that with Iowa's two victories against Wisconsin last year, where they scored 72 and 67 points; those represented two of the three highest point totals conceded by the Badgers all season. Iowa pushed the tempo in both games, shot over 48 percent from the field, and nullified Wisconsin's perimeter offense. It's a template that they are custom-made to follow again tonight.
Getting a notch in the Big Ten victory column last weekend against Northwestern was the first step. Getting that elusive road win in the same game certainly didn't hurt. But Iowa, with its cupcake-like non-conference schedule, needs Big 10 pelts if it is to go dancing in March. This is probably the best chance for one.