The Iowa Hawkeyes are riding a heater. They’ve won four straight overall and three straight at home, all against ranked foes. Tonight, Iowa will again be at home, but this time they’ll be hosting an unranked opponent for the first time since Kennessaw State came to town in late December.
While Wisconsin is unranked, we all know the Badgers will be yet another test. To help get a sense of what Hawkeye fans should expect out of this year’s version of the Badgers, we’re getting the inside scoop from Drew Hamm, man again editor of SB Nation Wisconsin site Bucky’s 5th Quarter.
BHGP: For Iowa fans that have done their best to avoid ever seeing Wisconsin on their televisions, what can we expect out of this year’s version of the Badgers? Is there ever really a difference in any version of Wisconsin hoops?
B5Q: First of all, if you’ve avoided seeing any Wisconsin basketball this year, God bless you and please go out to dinner or something on Monday night. The Badgers aren’t playing a particularly beautiful brand of basketball and if the Purdue game, which is their most recent outing, is any indication of future effort...well...this game won’t be very close. What you can expect from this year’s Badgers is (usually) stout defense, limited turnovers on offense, using up most of the shot clock and then shooting a three. Two games ago the Badgers set a school record for most three pointers made with 18. Last game, they made seven threes with exactly zero of them coming in the first half and found themselves down 33-15 at halftime. Basically, outside of those two years the Badgers went to the Final Four, this is the same Wisconsin basketball team you’ve watched for 20 odd years.
BHGP: This Wisconsin team has had a bit of an up and down season, but has really been on a bit of a roll since Christmas. How much of that is the entrance of Micah Potter and how much of that is the Badgers simply coming together to play their best basketball down the stretch?
B5Q: Getting Potter back was a big deal for the Badgers. He fleshes out Greg Gard’s rotation and allows starting big Nate Reuvers to get some rest during the game. I don’t think I’m out of line in saying he probably would have helped the Badgers win two more games in their non-conference schedule had the NCAA not been, well, the NCAA. He provides some instant offense off the bench with his ability to score down low and from beyond the three point line. The Badgers are 3-3 in their last six games with a stupid home loss to Illinois by one point and two blowouts (at Michigan State and at Purdue) as their losses. They beat Maryland by two at home, outlasted Penn State on the road and blew out Nebraska at home for their three wins. It is really hard to say what this team’s ceiling is because sometimes they look like a top-15 team and other times they look like barely a top-100 team. Beating Iowa on the road would lead me to believe this is for sure an NCAA Tournament team. Getting blown out by Iowa? Well,,,it hard to say what I’d think.
BHGP: While Iowa is the only Big Ten team with a winning road record, Wisconsin has certainly been battle tested on the road and hold two of the conference’s best road wins. What makes the Badgers so tough away from the Kohl Center?
B5Q: They almost always play hard-nosed defense and control the pace of play to take the opponent out of their comfort zone regardless of venue. To be fair, Wisconsin did lose their first five games of the season away from the Kohl Center, so it’s not like the Badgers are some sort of marauding band of road warriors. I do think that those losses helped set them up for success later in the season and I do not think they’ll be intimidated by playing at Iowa. The key will be whether or not they are making a respectable clip from three. That’s, uh, pretty much the barometer.
BHGP: The Hawkeyes have become highly dependent on contributions from a handful of players to be successful this year. Who are the 1-2 players Iowa must stop if they want to win, and what needs to go right for the Badgers to pull off another road win?
B5Q: The thing that differentiates this year’s Wisconsin team from last year’s team, which featured Ethan Happ, is that you never really know which player is going to step up and beat you. Nate Reuvers has probably been the consistently “best” player on the team, but he only scored four points in Wisconsin’s win at Penn State. Kobe King has been one of the best players in the B1G during conference play but he played 28 minutes against Purdue on Friday and scored as many points as you or I. Micah Potter has the highest ORtg on the team but hasn’t proven that he understands what Wisconsin is doing on defense to play down the stretch. Brad Davison, D’Mitrik Trice or Brevin Pritzl are all just as likely to score 18 points each all on three pointers as they are to score six points combined. The Badgers need to get to the free throw line often, preferably attempt 20+ free throws, and make at least four three pointers in each half to have a chance against an excellent Iowa offense.
BHGP: Alright, prediction time. The Hawkeyes are riding a three-game home winning streak. Do they keep that going or can Wisconsin pull off the upset?
B5Q: I am confident that the Badgers will provide a much better effort against Iowa than they did against Purdue when they allowed the Boilermakers to grab 16 offensive rebounds (which was as many total rebounds that UW grabbed), but I do not know if it will be enough to beat the Hawkeyes on the road. I think Luka Garza has a big game (spicy take, I know) and Joe Wieskamp has a big game from beyond the arc leading Iowa to a 78-70 win.
You see what he did there? He tried to jinx us. Sly move by the Badger, but we all know what he’s up to.
Anyway, here’s hoping the Hawkeyes can get another one in the win column this evening and build toward the tournament. Big thank you to Drew and all of Bucky’s 5th Quarter for the insight. If you’re looking for more on the matchup with Wisconsin tonight, head over to B5Q to get some more perspective.