Can you imagine Ben Brust sporting jersey no. 1 for the Hawkeyes?
A little game of "what if" leads into our preview of tonight's Wisconsin-Iowa matchup.
Remember when Ben Brust decided to reopen his recruitment because Iowa fired Todd Lickliter? The move and everything afterward that landed Brust in Madison eventually opened the door for Jarrod Uthoff to transfer home via a Big Ten rule change.
The simple fact that Iowa (14-8, 3-6 Big Ten) comes to town tonight serves as an unwelcome reminder of the Uthoff situation. And it will only get worse next season when Uthoff is actually eligible to play.
If Brust had never sought to leave Iowa City, Uthoff could possibly still be a Badger considering the scholarship implications prior to Brust. And honestly, up until this past weekend, I was starting to struggle with my answer to the following question: would I trade Brust's four years for four more years of Uthoff?
Luckily, Brust burst out of a big rut with 20 points against Illinois to render the exercise somewhat moot. He is Wisconsin's second-leading scorer this year (by default?), and he has upped his scoring, rebounding and assist numbers from his sophomore-year levels.
But outside of a Cal game which was never in doubt, Wisconsin (15-7, 6-3) hasn't seen much of the dead-eye gunner that it caught glimpses of against BYU, UNLV and Indiana last season. Brust has compiled most of his statistics against subpar competition this year despite logging almost 33 minutes per game.
Without any collegiate proof to base Uthoff's worth on, the only evidence in his favor would be Bo Ryan's famous praise during early practices and how Uthoff's skills might fill a hole on Wisconsin's roster in the near future. As a third-year player in 2013-14, added strength and an innate gift for passing would have made Uthoff an interesting piece next to Sam Dekker ... though Uthoff may never have been able to replace what Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz bring to the table in other areas.
Still, there is no doubt that a frontcourt of rising junior Frank Kaminsky, a redshirt sophomore in Uthoff, plus a sophomore Sam Dekker sounds a lot more soothing than two freshman lining up next to Kaminsky and Dekker next season. And there is no guarantee that having Uthoff would have prevented UW from signing Nigel Hayes, either -- Jordan Hill could've been the odd man out, allowing UW to restock up front.
My guess is Uthoff turns into a pretty nice player for Iowa as an upperclassmen, but we'll have to wait and see.
Maybe Brust makes the hypothetical choice even easier with another big game Wednesday. And an even bigger senior year. One thing is certain: I wouldn't want a Josh Gasser-less Badger team to face an Iowa team with Brust.
And Brust looks a lot better in a red uniform than a black one.
* * *
As if the second half against Wisconsin was a bad omen, Iowa has been a frustrating team to root for since these two teams last squared off. The Hawkeyes will be playing their fourth road game in the last five outings, a stretch in which Iowa has dropped all three away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa crumbled in crunch time versus Minnesota on Sunday and gave away another win in overtime at Purdue, 65-62.
Aaron White (13.9 ppg) has overtaken Roy Devyn Marble as Iowa's leading scorer after Marble was held scoreless against Minnesota. White is only two games removed from a career-high 27 points against Penn State and has always been a thorn in Wisconsin's side. Senior forward Mike Bruesewitz cannot afford to let the redheaded sophomore "out-Bruesewitz" him again.
Fran McCaffery has also reinserted Melsahn Basabe back into the starting lineup for a bigger look.
The fact that Iowa ranks 67th in points scored per game (72.3) but only 203rd in field goal percentage (42.7%) should tell what you need to know about how McCaffery would like to win this game: high volume.
However, there won't be an emotional homecourt atmosphere to aid the Hawkeyes this time. In fact, the Kohl Center may be more inhospitable than usual due to a few factors.
For one, Wisconsin has now inexplicably lost three straight games to Iowa, whom it now trails in the all-time series, 79-77. Secondly, the fact that Uthoff is in the building for the first time with his new team will put a certain segment of the crowd on edge (UPDATE: Apparently, Uthoff cannot travel with Iowa this season because he is not redshirting, but is strictly ineligible. So fans get a one-year reprieve from seeing Uthoff live.)
In Iowa City, no starter had more than eight points for Wisconsin, which looked totally lost until George Marshall took over in the frenetic second half. It's a safe bet that Wednesday nigh's game will be played at a pace more suitable to the Badgers. If not, UW will be staring at a four-game losing streak to their neighbors.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Jared Berggren, Sr.||C||Adam Woodbury, Fr.|
|Mike Bruesewitz, Sr.||F||Melsahn Basabe, Jr.|
|Ryan Evans, Sr.||F||Aaron White, So.|
|Ben Brust, Jr.||G||Roy Devyn Marble, Jr.|
|Traevon Jackson, So.||G||Mike Gesell, Fr.|
KenPom win probability: 80% (65-57 W) 64 possessions
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