Wisconsin split a pair of trap games prior to its important 2-0 home stand and now walks into the granddady of of all trap games Wednesday night. With a showdown with No. 1 Ohio State looming, the Badgers must travel to Iowa City and tame the rejuvenated Iowa Hawkeyes.
Iowa (10-13, 3-8 Big Ten) may still reside in the Big Ten cellar, but the Hawkeyes are dreaming big. Fran McCaffrey rode into town during the offseason with an agenda to push the tempo. At 68.6 possessions per game, the Hawkeyes play faster than any team in the league. It will be a huge challenge for Iowa to knock the Badgers (17-5, 7-3) out of their preferred pace (57.9), even in the comfort of Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
This will be Wisconsin's first close look at the new regime. The Hawkeyes have earned all three of their league victories in the last five games after starting out 0-6. Junior guard Matt Gatens is the team's leading scorer at 13 ppg. He's likely one of the only faces on the team you will recognize from previous years.
In the absence of Cully Payne, junior transfer Bryce Cartwright has come into his own of late. Cartwright is fast and a little turnover prone, but is a perfect point guard for McCaffrey's style. I will be interested to see if Jordan Taylor starts out with the defensive assignment on Cartwright or just finishes on him. I would expect Gasser to draw Eric May, with Tim Jarmusz on Gatens.
Another newcomer I have admired from afar all season is Melsahn Basabe. In any other year, Basabe might be your Big Ten Freshman of the Year -- maybe in a runaway vote. Basabe plays much bigger than 6'7" and is a double-double threat every night, averaging nearly 11 points, 7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per outing. Jon Leuer will need every bit of his height advantage to combat Basabe's length and athleticism on defense. Hard to believe the guy was a Siena recruit at one point.
McCaffrey still only puts about eight of his guys in heavy rotation in most games to achieve the desired pace. The Hawkeyes are also a young group for the most part, whereas Bo Ryan's bunch oozes with experience at most positions. Senior Jarryd Cole and junior Andrew Brommer do give Iowa a couple big bodies to rotate in, though they are not as skilled as the Badger big men.
Iowa is also not as much of a threat from long distance in McCaffrey's system. May shoots 46% but shoots it less than Keaton Nankivil, and Gatens guns at a 36% clip. After that? Nada.