After a week of palace intrigue, the #14/15 Iowa Hawkeyes (6-0) are set to face off against the #22/22 Wisconsin Badgers (6-1) in the conference opener. It is easily the most important game of Iowa’s young season, as it sets the stage for conference expectations.
The Badgers return a ton of production from a 15-18 squad who finished the season winning five out of eight games. They finished 7-11 in conference - three games above Iowa - which placed them 9th.
Leading the charge is KenPom wunderkind Ethan Happ, who is currently first in the KenPom Player of the Year rankings ($). He is currently averaging 18.0 point a game on 54.8% shooting, 12.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. Due to the slow pace of the Badgers - they’re currently 348th out of 353 according to KenPom - these stats skew into insanity by 100 possessions. While his points dip year over year in that metric, nearly everything else is up:
And yet, he still cannot hit free throws or three pointers to save his life. It is something to watch if the game is a tight one down the stretch as his deficiency here aided Iowa’s win in Madison a couple years ago and enabled a tight game against NC State. (yes, I know: rocks, glass houses, Tyler Cook, Pittsburgh)
While the calvary has come in the form of D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King, I would first like to open this space with the charge montage of Buzzcut Brad:
Cry-laughing emoji, indeed.
If you needed a little extra oomph to cheer against Wisconsin, you’re welcome. Anyways, though he’s experienced a little bit of a dip from his freshman year, his numbers are pretty good despite lacking self-respect, as Bomani Jones put it. 9.4 points, with a couple boards and a couple assists, as he has moved off ball with Trice taking over as point guard.
Trice, another sophomore guard, has put up pretty crazy numbers throughout non-conference play, with his three point shooting sticking out at 60.0%. He is Wisconsin’s second leading scorer at 17.0 points per game after missing most of last year with an injury. While his assists are not what you’d expect for a leading guard at 2.9, it is because Happ is so do-it-all. He’ll be a force for Iowa to handle.
Kahlil Iverson and Nate Reuvers fill out the Badgers’ starting lineup. With Reuvers’ size and shooting ability, it provides an intriguing decision for Fran McCaffery in terms of who guards whom between Tyler Cook and Luka Garza. King is the Badgers’ sixth man and averages a cool 6.1 points a game.
It is freaking wild that the Iowa Hawkeyes are sitting at 6-0, in the top 15 in rankings, yet are not the buzz of the Twitter-sphere due to Gary Dolphin’s hot mic and Gary Barta-fueled fallout. But here we are. All of the Hawkeyes have been cordial in their response to this stuff and seem focused not to make it a story. Thee best way not to make it a story? Come out on fire.
I expect Iowa to have a ton of energy to open the game and with Carver-Hawkeye Arena looking like it’ll be a near-sellout on a Friday night, it could get raucous, especially if a questionable Buzzcut Brad charge call turn CHA into the Colosseum.
Also in this space, I really hope Maishe Dailey has a good game tonight. The kid didn’t deserve his name to be thrown into the mix so I can see Fran going 100% “my guy” and putting him in the starting lineup.
To say Happ’s performance against Iowa has been mixed is an understatement. Though he’s averaged about 12 points a game against the Hawkeyes, his play has been very underwhelming as free throws down the stretch in 2017 allowed Iowa to come back and Cook and company were able to stifle him through much of the first half of last year’s blowout loss.
I expect Fran to try and limit his impact and show Wisconsin a variety of looks. Garza is likely to start on him but Cook will also get plenty of run defending him, as they faced each other pretty regularly during NBA workouts.
I also expect Iowa to really focus on attacking Happ on defense, in all three of his games against Iowa, he’s racked up four or more fouls. The best way to neutralize his offense might just be to make sure he’s not on the court.
Tonight is, frankly, the most excited I’ve been for an early season Iowa basketball game since, I think Iowa/ISU 2015. Though Wisconsin is much improved from last year, but still beatable. If Iowa is able to get off to a hot start and put the Badgers on their heels, it should bode well for tonight and the rest of this year.
But we all know how that game in 2015 turned out. It’ll take a full 40 from Iowa to win this one. Let’s make it happen, cap’n.