Well, Thursday's game in Evanston really did a whole lot to prepare the Badgers for their tough task at hand this evening.
Northwestern was even worse than I thought. Wisconsin did whatever it wanted on the offensive end, especially Sam Dekker and the surprising stud Nigel Hayes. Let's hope the duo can combine for another potent night offensively against the No. 22 Iowa Hawkeyes.
It's hard to gripe with anything about the Badgers' performance the other night, but there was one thing that needs some cleaning up today, especially when you consider Iowa's sizeable height advantage and length all over the court.
In the Big Ten opener, Wildcats center Alex Olah had 23 points from the interior against the cardinal and white, and many of his touches were simply too easy. Caliber-wise, Olah is a fraction of the player that Aaron White is for the Hawkeyes, and White gave Wisconsin fits last season with his ability to score over defenders at the rim. White has to be contained tonight.
Looking back at the two contests between the Badgers and Hawkeyes last season, Iowa should have won both games. The now freshly-transferred George Marshall went off in the second half in Iowa City just to make the first matchup a close game, and then Iowa's youth showed in game No. 2 as the Badgers battled from behind to force overtime... twice.
To take care of business tonight, it will take a performance that the No. 4 team in America would typically provide in its conference home-opener for Wisconsin to knock off Iowa.
The Hawks are a matchup nightmare for UW -- that was proved last year when these teams met, and I expect the bad guys to again dictate action in stretches once things tip at 7 p.m. But, Wisconsin is at home and the Kohl Center will be rocking with excitement for a top-25 matchup and some Jarrod Uthoff-fueled animosity.
Ultimately, I like the Badgers tonight, but let's give you our three keys to a Wisconsin win.
Keep the Hawkeyes off the offensive glass
Iowa is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, and since I'm now a resident of the state, I've seen this with much regularity over the past month.
The Hawks average 14.4 offensive rebounds per game, which makes them the 16th-best offensive rebounding team in America. Simply stated, the Badgers can ill afford to give Iowa easy second-chance opportunities because the Hawks will cash them in.
The Badgers are a middle-of-the-pack defensive rebounding team so far this season, ranking 126th in the country. Knowing that, the Badgers will have to dig into Bo Ryan's bag of fundamental tricks and box out like they teach you in fifth grade.
All over the floor, Iowa has length that Wisconsin cannot match, so it will take an outstanding rebounding effort this evening for the Badgers to remain unbeaten.
Grind it out like old times
While we know this year's Wisconsin team has more freedom to get up and down the floor offensively, I think this is a game tonight where the Badgers should revert to their more grinding style.
I know Bo would hate to hear me using that word referencing his team, but a good ol' mid-'50s slugfest would heavily favor the Badgers more than a high-scoring affair.
Iowa loves to run, run and run some more, and while Wisconsin has shown the ability to play up-tempo at times this year, I don't know if the Badgers can win by matching the Hawks' pace for 40 minutes. Iowa is averaging 87.1 points per game, which is the eighth-best mark in the country. Now on the flipside, Wisconsin's always solid defense is allowing just 59.8 points per game, which is the 13th-best mark in America.
These two teams are truly a clash of styles, and the recipe for a Wisconsin win is to slow things down and get quality looks late in the shot clock. Iowa controlled tempo in both matchups between these two rivals last year, and if that happens again, then a loss is on the horizon.
Don't allow Jarrod Uthoff to find a rhythm off the bench
With my current place of residence being in Iowa's capital city, I've had the chance to watch most Hawkeye games this season, and Uthoff is the guy that has continually jumped out at me.
I knew he was likely to be a quality contributor when he played for the Badgers, but I now know why Bo was so restrictive initially regarding Uthoff's transfer options. The kid can really play, and when he's on the floor, Iowa is awfully tough.
Uthoff is the Hawks' leading rebounder (6.5 per game) and his length allows him to impact the game defensively, too. I'm actually surprised that Fran McCaffery hasn't yet inserted him into the starting lineup because his versatility is a nightmare for teams to go up against.
I think the battle of the sixth man in tonight's game might actually decide who wins and who losses. If Uthoff goes off, then Iowa wins, but if the Badgers' freshman Nigel Hayes can counter him on the interior, then I love Wisconsin's chances.
Hayes has been a phenom of late, and Iowa didn't see him a year ago. He's a hidden gem that the Hawks might not be ready to handle.
Prediction: This will be a close game throughout, but the Badgers pull away late from with come clutch free throws. Wisconsin 68, Iowa 60.
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