You may have heard the “Iowa Hawkeyes” (10-11, 1-7) are “playing” the “Wisconsin Badgers” (10-10, 3-4) tonight in a “basketball game.” We can confirm those facts and to help us preview of the game, we talked with Bucky’s 5th Quarter reporter/editor Jake Kocorowski.
1) It’s been a transitional year for Wisconsin as they’ve gone from one of the most experienced in the nation to one of the youngest. What has plagued the Badgers so far this year?
It’s been a combination of youth and learning through on the court experience, along with injuries and the lack of development from particular third-year players. You’re looking at Ethan Happ and Brad Davison as the main contributors on this team, with a sprinkling of players who have not consistently stepped up to be third or fourth options. Forward Khalil Iverson and guard Brevin Pritzl both have flashed at times, especially against Illinois on Friday night, but need to contribute more when the opportunity presents itself.
Wisconsin is also missing two guards in sophomore D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King. King was one of three true freshmen, along with Davison and forward Nate Reuvers, that were expected to contribute in their first seasons in Madison. His knee injury, along with Trice’s foot fracture, really thinned the herd at guard, forcing Davison to have more ball-handling duties than expected. Trice did practice last Wednesday during the possession portion of the session, so we’ll see when he’s finally cleared to play.
We mentioned Iverson and Pritzl as those making an impact on the team, but three other third-year players--Charles Thomas, Alex Illikainen and Andy Van Vliet--have not contributed as much as you would think juniors would, considering Wisconsin’s repertoire of developing players over time. Because of this, Reuvers burned his redshirt when an extra year in the weight room would have definitely helped, and though he has played beyond expectations in my opinion, he still does not have the body of a Big Ten big man (though he defended Haas pretty well in Mackey Arena). Illikainen is the only one of those three that has seen double-digit minutes the last two games, and he’s shown signs of playing good defense vs. Purdue and Illinois, so that’s a welcomed sign for a team desperately needing players to step up.
2) After a lot of offseason hype pointing to a potential three-point shot, Ethan Happ still operates inside the arc but continues to be an advanced stats darling, including impressive assist numbers. What can Iowa expect from him?
Typical Ethan Happ, really. His ball handling skills give him that unique attribute of a big man who can also take the ball up court and dish it to teammates (he currently leads the team in assists per game at 3.7). When he’s inside, he’s always a dangerous presence if you don’t double up on him. He leads the team in points (16.7), rebounds (8.5) and assists per game. His free-throw shooting still needs work (52.1 percent from the charity stripe), but he’s slightly improved from last year’s 50 percent. I would say he’s prone to turnovers, as he also leads the team in that category (59). Those happen when he is doubled and tries to pass out but there’s not enough juice on said pass that’s cut off by a defender with a solid angle.
If you leave him alone inside, he’s going to kill you every time with some spin or inside move that leads to a layup. Force him to pass out of a double team to make other unproven players make shots from the outside.
3) Listeners of the One Shining Podcast are well aware of “Buzzcut” Brad Davison, who is second in scoring on the team. After him, has anyone else emerged?
I may have answered this in my notes above, but there has been Iverson, Pritzl, Reuvers and redshirt freshman forward Aleem Ford. Ford is actually the team’s best three-pointer shooter at the moment (nearly 46 percent from behind the arc on 59 attempts) but he is also still a second-year player learning defense. Pritzl was a standout sharpshooter on the court during his prep days, but he’s only connected on 34.2 percent of his threes (in 79 attempts). He has scored in double digits seven of the past nine games he’s played in, however, while Iverson found openings in Illinois’ defense on Friday (13 points).
This was not mentioned earlier, but Wisconsin also has had to rely on current or former walk-ons due to the perceived lack of scholarship talent, with the likes of redshirt senior forward Aaron Moesch, redshirt sophomore guard T.J. Schlundt and true freshman guard Walt McGrory all seeing some action this year.
The question again is who can become the more consistent contributor(s) to this team?
4) Wisconsin has dropped off defensively this year. What have been some issues on that side of the court?
It goes back to the combination of youth and those experienced players not necessarily developing/playing as much as you’d like. With other blue blood programs like Duke, Kentucky and Kansas you have the talent to overcome inexperience. With Wisconsin, that isn’t the case. So with Thomas, Illikainen and Van Vliet all not consistently being productive or cracking the regular rotation, it has forced younger guys to step up with the old saying of “trial by fire.” Van Vliet is a potential scoring threat, but it appears he has not earned the trust of the coaching staff to play a lot defensively.
There have been some defensive lapses, but you’re also seeing a kid like Reuvers--who again does not necessarily have the body type of a Big Ten big man--block shots (five vs. Illinois) and has shown he’s adapting well to the college game. Illikainen’s last two outings have also been promising, especially with how he and Reuvers held Haas in check.
5) Lastly, who ya got?
Both teams were blown out by Purdue recently, but I think Wisconsin can get it done on Tuesday (it’s a coin flip, in my opinion). Despite Iowa being among the conference’s best in points per game and having four players averaging double figures, I think Wisconsin builds off the momentum of the Illinois win, with Happ putting up a good chunk of points against a Hawkeyes’ team that’s last in the conference in points allowed per game. Yet I could also see the Badgers--who have the worst field goal percentage defense and second-worst three-point defense--seeing the Hawkeyes, with Tyler Cook, Jordan Bohannon and Luke Garza, shoot the lights out.
This season has not been kind to Wisconsin in terms of close games, as UW has not been able to bust through that wall for a W in a handful of games. Call me an optimist, but I think they can pull it off. Wisconsin 68, Iowa 67.
Thanks Jake. We hope your team loses by a million. You can pester him on the Twitter about the game (or why Greg Gard should reinstitute the “buzzcuts only” haircut rule) if you’re feeling like it at @JakeKocoB5Q or the above @B5Q.