The #11 Iowa Hawkeyes (15-6, 9-5) are slated to take on the #21 Wisconsin Badgers (15-7, 9-6) tomorrow night as teams vie for the double-bye in the Big Ten Conference tournament. A win for Iowa would grant them tie-breakers over Wisconsin & Purdue, two teams currently sitting at 9-6, plus a game in hand.
Joining us to discuss the state of Wisconsin basketball is Drew Hamm, Mr. Manager at Bucky’s 5th Quarter.
1) After averaging 77 points through their first 12 games, Wisconsin’s offense has averaged just 63 in their last 10. What has been a key issue for this drop-off and do you think there’s anything the Badgers can do against Iowa to flip the script?
Hoo boy...there are a number of reasons for this drop-off, not the least of which are: an increase in turnovers, an inability to get to the free-throw line with regularity and, drumroll please, the top issue...........shooting the ball! The Badgers, almost as an entire team, have gone through a lengthy cold snap from beyond the arc. Over their last 10 games, the Badgers have shot 30.2% (77-of-255) from three-point land and have only shot above 40% once, a 9-of-18 display in their win over Penn State. If the Badgers aren’t hitting shots from deep they are pretty much guaranteed to lose if the the they are playing has more of a pulse than Nebraska.
— Fifth Factor Plots (@5th_Factor) February 16, 2021
(is not how my metric rates the Badgers' shots) pic.twitter.com/1lHuIpSojM
They struggle to work the ball inside if their long-range game isn’t working and even when they do get it in there Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter have struggled to finish around the rim. However, I see you’ve asked about them in the next question so I’ll hold off on delving too deep into their performance. Wisconsin does have a host of guys who, if they get hot, can beat you with a flurry of threes but over the past 10 games (and honestly it’s been the entire Big Ten schedule pretty much) no one has been able to hit them with regularity.
2) In Nate Reuvers & Micah Potter, UW has two bigs who can guard Luka Garza effectively (scored 21 points on 6/17 shooting in their meeting last year). How do you expect Greg Gard to deploy them to counteract Garza? More broadly, do you believe Reuvers and Potter have been used effectively throughout this season?
So, Reuvers is the superior defender and it’s not that close. Potter often looks lost on defense and is routinely benched during games for not being where he is supposed to be. However, Potter looked very good on defense in Wisconsin’s last game against Michigan and Hunter Dickinson. Maybe something has clicked for him, but I’d wager that it was more of a one-off display of defensive competence. Garza is a special offensive talent and the Badgers, obviously, haven’t faced a post player as good him this year. Players like Kofi Cockburn and the aforementioned Dickinson have had pretty good games against UW (Cockburn scored 23 on 10-of-13 shooting and Dickinson had 11 and 15 on Sunday). With Garza having a weird off game against MSU I really don’t foresee him having two clunkers in a row.
I think they’ll both play about equal minutes unless Garza gets one of them in foul trouble early (very likely) and they’ll play him mostly straight up with some double-teams coming to mix it up. I do think, for the most part, that Reuvers and Potter have been used effectively this year. Potter just isn’t a very good defender and Reuvers has regressed for reasons that I frankly don’t understand.
3) Their defense has not faced nearly the same dropoff as their offense from the first half of the season - 62 points allowed vs. 64 by the same splits as above. What does Wisconsin do to keep games within reach?
It has been pretty impressive that the Badgers haven’t let their dreadful offensive performances seep into their defensive effort. Wisconsin plays man-to-man and usually doesn’t switch (but will sometimes) and they force bad shots by continually having their hands up and knowing where they’re supposed to be. They also have a Swiss army knife, in sophomore Tyler Wahl, who can defend one through four and is a part of four of Wisconsin’s best five defensive five-man units. Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice are usually pretty good at the point of attack, although they are susceptible to getting beat into the lane by quicker guards and as mentioned above, Reuvers is a good rim protector.
4) In reading your notes post-Michigan loss (the second one), you wrote that the Badgers feel more like the second half-version than the first half. What do they have to do in your mind to be more consistently like the first half-version?
I know this will sound like I’m brushing this question off, but it’s really as simple as making more shots*. They are able to generate good looks at the basket from three, even against good defensive teams (which, as you may know Iowa is not) they just aren’t hitting them at an acceptable rate. The players in their media availability always talk about being more consistent and continuing to shoot because eventually they’ll start going down...they just haven’t. In the first half against Michigan on Sunday they WERE hitting their threes and they looked like the better team. The Badgers shot 5-of-7 from three in the first half but 1-of-12 in the second half and coincidentally, Michigan outscored Wisconsin 40-20 in the second half.
[Note: I have long called basketball a make-or-miss game so no offense taken with the answer]
5) Finally, who ya got and why?
This one is tough to call. Torvik has Wisconsin with a 54% chance to win while KenPom has Iowa with a 55% chance to win. Playing at home should be an advantage for the Badgers, but they’re only 2-2 in their last four game at the Kohl Center, while the Hawks are 2-2 in their last four road games. I do think the Badgers will be able to keep the Iowa offense somewhat in check and the Badgers may find the sledding easier on offense than they did against Michigan but I just don’t know if UW will hit enough shots to win. I’ve got Iowa winning 71-68.