Remember when people were talking about throwing in the towel on this basketball season just a week or so ago?
Yeah, me either. What a difference two games make.
The Hawkeyes are going back on the road to take on the Wisconsin Badgers after having won two straight games, including a huge one on the road against #24 Maryland. New life has been injected into these young Hawks and now it wouldn’t be a surprise if they walked into Madison and stole one from the Badgers.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin is trending in the wrong direction, having lost two in a row and four of their last five, with their lone win coming at home against the same Terps that Iowa just blew out. After looking like a surefire bet for the to be champions of the Big Ten regular season, they’re sitting in second place - that’s still really good, obviously, but the fall off has been steep for them in the last couple weeks.
Can the Hawkeyes get another signature win against a ranked opponent to bring themselves closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble? Let’s talk about the opponent.
Getting to know Wisconsin
Bo Ryan isn’t coaching the Badgers anymore, but he might as well be. They’ve played basketball in the same awful, boring way that they always have in Greg Gard’s first full year as head coach in Madison. Kenpom has them ranked 34th in adjusted offensive efficiency, but they’re also 333rd in adjusted tempo. You know, EXACTLY what you’d expect from the Badgers if you didn’t know that Bo Ryan retired. Pit that against Iowa’s 43rd ranked adjusted tempo, and this is going to be two teams trying to impose their game plan on the other. Typical Badgers vs. Hawkeyes hoops!
The player that Iowa will need to look out for most in this one is a guy who doesn’t need much of an introduction, sophomore Ethan Happ. Happ does anything and everything for the Badgers, leading the team in points, field goal percentage, rebounds, steals, and blocks. He’s also second on the team in assists with 83 on the season, which is just one less than team leader Nigel Hayes. He’s been an absolute monster and there’s a reason that many consider him to be a top contender for Big Ten Player of the Year. Pair all the success with his size (6-10, 232 lb.), and he’s bound to give an undersized Iowa fits all night.
On the defensive end of the ball, this Wisconsin team is pretty much what you’d expect if you’ve watched the Badgers in the last handful of years. Kenpom has them ranked 15th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Scoring is going to be at a premium in this game and the Hawkeyes are going to have to be creative to pull this one out.
What Iowa has to do to win
First thing’s first: STOP ETHAN HAPP.
Now that we got the easiest thing out of the way, let’s talk about how Iowa can try to exploit the Badgers’ defense. Having watched some Badgers games, they like to pack themselves around the paint and that means that the perimeter is going to be pretty open if they stay true to form. We all know that Peter Jok and Jordan Bohannon (as well as a few others) are lethal from three-point range and that if they’re on, they’re going to rain threes on Wisconsin all night long. Let’s hope they’re on and that they can stretch out the Badger defense a bit, because if they can get it inside to Cook and Pemsl, there aren’t a whole lot of teams who can stop them both, especially with the way Cook has been playing.
Lastly, another obvious one - Iowa needs to play at its own tempo. It’ll definitely be hard to do against a more experienced team like Wisconsin, but the Hawkeyes will have to do their best not to slow down to the crawl that their opponent likes to play at. Anyone who’s watched the Hawkeyes this season knows that they’re best when they get out in transition and shoot early and often, and that when they get deeper into a shot clock, they tend to stall and force shots.
The most similar team to the Badgers that Iowa has faced this season is Virginia, and it was pretty obvious that the Cavaliers imposed their will on the young Hawks with their slow tempo, running them out of the building. Will more experience benefit the Hawkeyes against another slow team? It’ll have to if they want any chance of winning.
Prediction: Wisconsin 61, Iowa 57. I love what I’ve seen from this Iowa team as of late, but I’m not sure that they’ll be able to handle the slow tempo of the Badgers effectively enough to steal another one on the road. I do like them to keep this one close in front of what will likely be a hostile crowd in Madison.