I'm not usually a fan of having almost a full week off in the middle of the conference season, but in this particular instance, I think the stretch without a game couldn't have come at a better time for the Badgers.
Iowa has given Wisconsin fits for the better parts of the past three seasons, and giving Bo Ryan and his coaching staff additional preparation time for such a tough matchup should only help UW's chances of winning in Iowa City tomorrow.
Plus, the Hawkeyes have been through a strange week. They didn't play at Indiana because of the Assembly Hall metal beam debacle, and that has created a significant amount of media-driven concern about the sudden late-season schedule shift Iowa will have to face down the season's stretch run. Given all the comments I've seen here in Des Moines the past couple days, I could foresee a scenario where the Hawkeyes aren't fully checked in mentally come 11am tomorrow.
Dare I say rust might also be a factor in this impending contest? After all, it will only be Iowa's third game in 14 days, and I wonder if the back-to-back weeks off between games will have the Hawks off their rhythm. It's a-okay with me if that's the case.
Another thing that should work in the Badgers' favor tomorrow: they just played one of their most complete games of the season in beating Michigan on the road. If the Badgers can in any way carry that performance through to Carver Hawkeye Arena, then you've got to love Wisconsin's chances of making it two road wins in a row over top-15 teams.
Enough examining the trends and external chatter though, let's look at what the Badgers have to do on the hardwood itself to pick up their fifth consecutive conference win. Thus, here are the classic three keys to beating Iowa.
Shut down Roy Devyn Marble early"Here's looking at you, Josh Gasser."
The Badgers' junior guard is playing at an awfully high level right now, especially on the defensive end. His shutdown performances of players like Gary Harris (3-of-20, six points) and Nik Stauskas (4-of-11, 11 points) in recent games have drawn a lot of praise, and deservedly so.
Now, can he follow those up and go out and limit the offensive production of the Hawkeyes' star in a similar fashion? If he does--and I think he has the potential to--Wisconsin wins.
Dev Marble really is the guy that makes Iowa click. Sure, Iowa can still win games when he isn't at his best, but when he's engaged and aggressive early on in a contest, the Hawkeyes are a scary team. Such a sentiment is shared by most fans in Hawkeye Nation down here, and it's a topic constantly discussed on sports talk radio, message boards and in social media. When Marble turns on the assertiveness from the get-go, he's as good a scorer as there is in the Big Ten. Go back to Jan. 5 game between Iowa and Wisconsin for instance--Marble had nine of the Hawks' first 15 points and helped them to an 11-point halftime lead. Then consider Marble has scored in double-figures in every Big Ten contest, and if Iowa happens to stay in the hunt for the conference title, you've got yourself a guy who will garner conference PoY talk.
Now having said all that, I've seen many an Iowa game this season, and you really don't know what offensive mindset Marble will have from game-to-game. If he comes out like he did against Michigan two weeks ago, look out. Therefore, if Gasser can effect what that mindset is early on and get under Marble's skin, I think Wisconsin's chances of picking up the road win dramatically increase.
So, let's see what you've got, Gass.
Compete on the boardsThis is a similar key to one that I used in the first matchup between these teams in early January, but it still holds true. Iowa's length is no joke--the Hawkeyes provide numerous matchups problems in that department, and Wisconsin simply has to be competitive in the rebounding margin.
Iowa sports the fourth-best rebounding margin statistic in the country, out-rebounding opponents by 9.5 per game. In game one, the Hawks had a decided 42-35 advantage on the glass, and much of their first half lead was built on second chance points. Iowa had 23 such points in that game, and if they get additional opportunities to convert again tomorrow, they'll win rather handily.
And one final note to consider, Wisconsin lost the rebounding battle in four of its five losses on the season.
Keep Iowa off the free throw lineThis is the Hawkeyes' modus operandi--get to the charity stripe early and keep going back. Iowa has made more free throws than its opponents have attempted this season, due in large part to its up-tempo and attacking style.
According to stats guru Ken Pomeroy, the Hawkeyes have run the fourth-most efficient offense to this point in the year, and a lot of that is attributed to the work they do at the line. 26% of their offense, in fact, comes from made free throws.
On the flip side though, the Badgers are allowing opponents to get just 16% of their offense at the line. They simply don't foul; so on it's face, I think this should be a relatively achievable key for Wisconsin. I solely use it as my final key to a win because of how much Iowa's style of play has won out the past couple seasons.
If that aforementioned statistic isn't as low as usual, then it means the Hawkeyes' pace has again won out, and that doesn't translate to a UW road win.
Prediction: This one is going to go down to the wire. Book it. Wisconsin seems to be back to its old self, but you know Iowa wants to avenge the loss at the Kohl Center from earlier this year.
Ken Pom's projected final score has the Hawkeyes winning 73-67, but I say flip it. I simply can't bare the thought of having to hear the chatter from my friends if Iowa wins, so I say the Badgers eek this one out.
Wisconsin 73, Iowa 67.