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Wisconsin vs. Iowa: Getting to know the Hawkeyes

Here’s the lowdown on Iowa before Tuesday night’s game.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

After a dominant win over Illinois on Friday night, the Wisconsin Badgers go back on the road for two consecutive games.

The first stop for Wisconsin (10–10, 3–4 Big Ten) places them in Iowa City on Tuesday to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes (10–11, 1–7), who have also struggled as one of the conference’s worst teams this season.

Sophomore forward Tyler Cook leads Iowa in scoring (14.5 points, 6.6 rebounds per game) through 21 games for a team that is third in the Big Ten in points per game (80.2), fourth in three-point percentage (37.9), and second in assists (18.6). Three other Hawkeyes—Jordan Bohannon (13.3), Isaiah Moss (11.2) and Luka Garza (10.9)—average double-digits in points.

Defensively, Iowa has allowed close to 77 points per game—worst in the Big Ten—and is second-to-last in the conference in field goal percentage defense (44.9 percent).

To help us preview Iowa, we welcome Black Heart Gold Pants’ Harrison Starr for a friendly Q&A.

What are your general observations about this Hawkeyes squad through 21 games?

I used the analogy on our podcast last week but this season reminds me of a runaway train: it got onto a track it could not get off but by the time you realize you’re heading towards an incomplete bridge, there’s no way to stop it.

The team, fans, and media all had pretty high expectations for this bunch built primarily on the highs of last season, including, well... Most everybody avoided looking at the roster imbalance—replacing Peter Jok with two 6’11 guys in Luka Garza and Jack Nunge—and figured things would sort themselves out. Further complicating the matter was the late transfer of Christian Williams and medical woes of Connor McCaffery further limiting Iowa’s backcourt. The Hawkeyes haven’t and don’t look like they can turn it around any time soon and Fran McCaffery’s dedication to a deep rotation has muddled players’ roles.

Overall, I’m really just hoping Iowa gets through this season without losing anyone absolutely necessary for next year—at the moment: Bohannon, Cook, Nicholas Baer, and Garza—and recover from the lost season.

Four Hawkeyes average double-figures in scoring, led by Cook. Who could give the Badgers fits on Tuesday night?

I’m personally pretty excited to see Garza go toe-to-toe with Ethan Happ. The freshman has been a bright spot of late, and looks to be rounding into form after some strong individual outings this month. He has the inconsistency you typically see from freshmen but isn’t afraid to let it fly if he’s open. He’s also registering the highest offensive rebounding rate on the team (top-25 in the country!) according to KenPom, so he does a pretty good job of manufacturing touches for himself. If both he and Cook are clicking—a tall task because Hawkeye guards have struggled feeding the post —they can really force opponents’ hands down low.

If Bohannon is feeling it from deep, he can also keep the Hawkeyes in it. However, he’s been feast-or-famine so far in the Big Ten slate, as he’s had four games with four or five threes and four with one or two. Moss has shown flashes both seasons he’s played but plays too passive, too often.

A problem that has plagued the Hawkeyes is beyond the starters (Baer is the fifth after winning the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year last year): Iowa struggles to get any consistency both offensively and defensively. For a team which was praised for its depth by the coaching staff all offseason, it’s been a huge disappointment.

Iowa has allowed 75 or more points in seven straight games and is worst in the conference in scoring defense (76.9 points per game). What has led to the inefficiency on this side of the court?

This statistic is no doubt pretty ugly but it honestly sugarcoats what has been a pretty putrid defense in the conference season for Iowa. Michigan basically went four-corners the last six minutes of the game and could have put up as many as it wanted. Same with Purdue. Heck, same with Rutgers, who lost their minds from three-point range. Illinois scored 90 points in regulation.

Iowa is susceptible in a couple of ways, which are about the worst ways in today’s game: you can penetrate pretty easily on them and they give up wide-open threes, specifically from the corner. Sometimes they will change defenses and catch an opponent off guard—Illinois struggled scoring against Iowa’s zone, especially after its hot shooting tapered of.

Where do you think Wisconsin could exploit Iowa, and where do you see the strengths of the Hawkeyes giving the Badgers fits?

If Wisconsin is hitting the three, it will be hard for Iowa to keep pace. I’ll be curious to see how Iowa defends Happ since there hasn’t been a big who has really hurt Iowa, though teams haven’t really needed to pound it down low to get baskets. Purdue worked wonders with Isaac Haas setting a variety of screens at the top of the key to spring shooters for open shots so Greg Gard could deploy Happ that way, too.

On offense, Iowa has played tentatively overall and settled too often for jumpers. If the guards can get the ball to Cook and/or Garza in 1-one-1 matchups down low, they’ve been pretty good at getting open looks or drawing fouls, though the team struggles overall with ball-stopping in these scenarios. If shots aren’t dropping, though, Iowa can really help itself attacking the offensive boards, though Wisconsin does a good job of finishing possessions.

What’s your game prediction?

Until Iowa shows me otherwise, I can’t really trust it enough to pick a win. I think it’ll be a rock fight with one Badger inexplicably going off from three (maybe Nate Reuvers?). Iowa keeps it close at home, but can’t finish the deal.

Wisconsin 75, Iowa 70