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Previewing the Hawkeyes at Wisconsin

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Johnny Davis v. Keegan Murray & Brad Davison v. Jordan Bohannon

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Wisconsin vs Iowa Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes (11-3, 1-2) head to Madison to face the #23 Wisconsin Badgers (11-2, 2-1). Both teams are coming off of wins Monday night after the Badgers took down a top-5 Purdue on the road while Iowa beat Maryland.

Looking at Wisconsin’s KenPom ($) sheet and honestly, it’s kind of insane they’re 11-2 right now. The two losses came against Providence in November, without star Johnny Davis, and December at Ohio State. 6 of their wins have come against Power 5-type competition (I’m including Houston & Marquette but not St. Mary’s). The flipside are some really average performances against low major competition, with wins against States Nichols & Illinois coming by a combined seven points.

They’re still Wisconsin under Greg Gard - his sixth full season - so they’re more defensively oriented, allowing just 63.7 PPG. The tempo, still slow, is a couple ticks up from past Badgers squads as they’re ranked 287th instead of the 320-350 range. The offense is what it needs to be behind wing Johnny Davis. Their four factors leave a lot to be desired - especially a 46.5% eFG (285th per KenPom) - but they’re safe with the ball. Only Iowa ranks ahead of them in turnover rate.

Perhaps we can chalk it up to the stiff competition they’ve faced through 13 games. They’ve faced three top 20 defenses and eight in the top 70. Iowa’s faced just one & five by the same filters.

Projected Starters:

G: Chucky Hepburn (Fr, 6’2”, 211 lbs) - 7.3 PPG, 2.2 APG, 36% FG%, 30% 3P%, 30.5 MPG
G: Brad Davison (Sr, 6’4”, 200 lbs) - 14.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 38% FG%, 35% 3P%, 32.5 MPG
G: Johnny Davis (So, 6’5”, 194 lbs) - 22.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.0 TPG, 45% FG%, 35% 3P%, 34.2 MPG
F: Tyler Wahl (Jr, 6’9”, 221 lbs) - 8.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 45% FG%, 0/16 3P, 28.8 MPG
F: Steven Crowl (So, 7’0”, 234 lbs) - 8.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 43% FG%, 29% 3P%, 23.5 MPG

(stats via sports-reference)

Johnny Davis has emerged alongside Keegan Murray as two sophomore player of the year candidates after solid but unremarkable freshman seasons. Much like Murray, Davis has seen his scoring output triple on a per/game basis (7.0 to 22.3) while maintaining much of the same efficiency he had off the bench last season. As a true wing player, he settles for jumpers a little more (29% of his total shots, per Pivot Analysis), and sees his FG% suffer as a result. While he’s just 53% at the rim, he’s a more capable isolation scorer, with 75% of his baskets coming unassisted.

Brad Davison continues to do Brad Davison things as he has shouldered a bit more of the scoring load in his second senior season. His 14.5 PPG is a career high and he has posted games of 27 (Georgia Tech) and 25 (Providence) so far this season.

Book Tyler Wahl for like 3/5 shooting from 3 tonight. Those are shots Iowa is totally willing to give to the 20% career shooter from deep but blind squirrels still find nuts.

Three questions

Which star can sustain their performance from the prior game best?

Keegan scored 35 points on 14/20 Monday night. Davis had 37 (13/24) alongside 14 rebounds. Keegan has scored 20+ points in 10 of 13 games while Davis is at 8 of 11. Both have proven to be consistently high-level performers throughout the non-conference but arguably face their toughest challenge, non-injury division, in each other later tonight.

Since both guys have shown to be such stable performers, it probably comes down to who can remain the more efficient of the two. Murray’s 5/6 shooting from deep is a very new development (he had only made three 3’s once prior to Monday) and is probably the Jenga block most likely to fall against the Badgers. Murray will have a decided height advantage if the two match up, so don’t be surprised if we see him on the post backing down Davis.

For Davis, the question will be whether he can generate the same consistency in going to the free throw line, where he was 9/12 against Purdue and made 82% of his attempts this season. Murray has fouled at a rate of just 2.0 per 40 minutes so, should he get Davis’ number, that looks to be an advantage.

Ultimately, I kind of harken back to what Luka Garza said in terms of how he would defend himself when looking at these two guys which boiled down to: “make me defend and get me off the floor with foul trouble.” Both guys are that good offensively that if one can get the other into foul trouble, that might spell doom for their team.

How does Jordan Bohannon put the bow on his rivalry with Wisconsin?

In games Bohannon has played, Iowa is 5-2 including sweeping last year’s 3 games. (Iowa won the 8th Bohannon missed) Arguably, the most memorable remains his first outing against the Badgers where he hit the game winning three.

Aside: The shorts, graphics, and suits make this game look like it took place 15 years ago. Nope!

Anyways, tonight will cap what’s been a remarkable stretch against a border rival even though Bohannon’s performances have been kind of average: 10.9 PPG, 31% FG, 38% 3P%, 4.9 APG. No matter - when you hit shots like the above, you get to be remembered fondly. I don’t write the rules.

One area he has been excellent against Wisconsin is in assists-to-turnover, with a 2.9 ratio. He’s tallied games of 8 & 11 assists. I would not be surprised, in Fran’s willingness to mix backcourt players, if he leans a little bit on Bohannon at point* in a game which figures to be a low-possession affair where ball security is emphasized even more than usual.

(* if this means Connor v. Davison, sign me up)

Can Iowa continue being juuust good enough rebounding?

After the rough pair of games where Iowa allowed Illinois and Iowa State to rebound over 50% of their misses, Iowa has stabilized back under that, around 30%. Maryland was at 36% but could only translate it into 11 second chance points (Iowa had 17 on 11 offensive rebounds). While not ideal, it was a decided step up from the two games mentioned where Iowa lost the second chance point category by 22 points combined.

By virtue of being small along the front line, Iowa just is not going to be a good rebounding team. But that weakness can be mitigated - especially in a low possession game where Wisconsin may be more focused on preventing transition opportunities instead of creating second chances - by Iowa sending four or five into rebounding. Heck, Bohannon had a very key rebound against Maryland and Joe Toussaint/Ahron Ulis/Tony Perkins have averaged 6.8 defensive rebounds over the last four games after having just 7 during Iowa’s three game losing streak.


Tonight will be billed, and deservedly so, as Keegan Murray vs. Johnny Davis, and both stars are very capable of showing out. Yet there are plenty of role players who have an opportunity to step up for either team. Given Iowa’s recent performance against Wisconsin, they might have an advantage. But the Badgers are remarkably battle-tested through just 13 games and will look to use that to score their first win in the series since 2019.