It’s amazing what a difference a year makes. Well, 327 days, which is how long ago this happened:
Remember the utter joy and optimism which surrounded this program? How the guys on the floor could contend - and if not contend then compete - with most anyone most anytime?
The Iowa Hawkeyes (10-11, 1-6) have won only two conference games since then. They’ll face the Wisconsin Badgers (10-10, 3-4) who have had to manage roster turnover, injuries, and youth in a way they haven’t in quite awhile. Wins over Penn State and Indiana define the difference in record, as Iowa could not match Wisconsin’s results.
The Badgers return only Ethan Happ from the above clip. The preseason Happ train went off the rails as ESPN ranked him the number two player in the country. It’s been tough sledding as he’s increased his raw numbers through a jump in minutes by 2.7 per game to 16.7. He also leads the team in rebounds (8.5) and assists (3.7). He’s largely sustained his shooting percentage but seen an increase in turnovers as his overall efficiency reverted with the departure of multiple shooters have cramped his style.
There’s also “Buzzcut” Brad Davison, who feels like he’s already been at Wisconsin for 8 years even though he’s just a true *freshman. He plays second fiddle to Happ and was the maestro behind this Wisconsin victory:
He’ll probably draw another charge or two. Wisconsin is counting.
Yep, Brad Davison draws another charge, his second tonight and his 20th of the season— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) January 10, 2018
Now that you’re good and lathered up to hate Wisconsin, here are some keys which aren't “rebound, defend with some effort, give a crap”:
Hit the three: Wisconsin is among the worst teams in the country - which unfortunately includes Iowa, but I digress - at defending the 3-ball. Where the Hawks and Badgers differ, is Iowa is more well-equipped to take advantage of their opponent’s deficiencies.
Jordan Bohannon is on pace to match his 89 three-pointers in two less games. While the number might not seem impressive considering the high expectations, it gets turned on its head when looking at his first 21 games last season. Bo shot 34.5% on 119 attempts before catching absolute fire for the final 13 games: 50.5% on 95 attempts. Here’s hoping a similar uptick occurs.
In addition to Bohannon, Iowa’s guards need to be decisive when they’ve got an opening to take a shot. Too many times are Maishe Dailey or Isaiah Moss receiving the pass and hesitating before dribbling and pulling up from just inside two. Let it rip! Follow in Luka Garza’s giant footsteps, as he’ll match Bohannon as the most decisive shooter on this team.
Attack the middle: If Iowa gets going from outside, it should allow Tyler Cook and Luka Garza to go at their Wisconsin counterparts. Force Happ (who has fouled out of two Big Ten contests despite solid fouls called/40 minute numbers) and Nate Reuvers to defend.
If defenders are closing out hard, drive into the lane, especially guys like Moss or even Nicholas Baer. The easiest way to defend Happ is by forcing him on the sidelines through foul trouble.
Don’t be afraid of the rocks: It is going to be an ugly game because Wisconsin is going to assert their will on this game. It is just what happens against them. The Hawkeyes have scored 60 or less points in regulation as many times as they have scored 70 or more. It is imperative Iowa does not give up early if they don’t hit shots on offense and it feels like Wisconsin is taking the air out of the ball on defense.
Further, Iowa should be absolutely willing to dish the hard foul, especially against Happ. After much offseason scuttlebutt about improving his shot, he’s missed all 4 3-point attempts and remains a 50%ish free throw shooter. Make him make tough passes, too. He’s shown a propensity to turn it over in high volume.
It’s a battle of wills - it most always is against Wisconsin - and the Hawkeyes have lost lots of games like this this season. They’ve played Wisconsin’s game before and won. I think they can do it again.