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What to expect from the Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Wisconsin

A Q&A with Black Heart Gold Pants.

NCAA Basketball: Empire Classic-Connecticut vs Iowa Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten conference season starts on Friday night, albeit briefly, as the No. 22 Wisconsin Badgers take on the No. 14 Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City.

Like Wisconsin, Iowa (6-0) comes off a close home win on Tuesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Hawkeyes fought off a feisty Pitt squad in a 69-68 win.

Fran McCaffrey’s squad boasts four players in double figures for scoring, led by forwards Tyler Cook and Luka Garza.

Some team and player stats are highlighted below. To help us break down the Hawkeyes even further, Ben Ross from Black Heart Gold Pants also answered some of our questions.

Team stats

  • Points per game: 85.3
  • Opponents’ points per game: 72.0
  • Field goal percentage: 46.9 (151 for 322)
  • 3-point percentage: 33.8 (47 of 139)
  • Free throw percentage: 77.6 (163 of 210)

Notable leaders of the Hawkeyes

  • Junior forward Tyler Cook: 14.8 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game (leads team in both categories); shooting 54.9 percent from the field
  • Sophomore forward Luka Garza: 14.3 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game; shooting 62.5 percent from the field; 20 of 23 from free throw line
  • Freshman guard Joe Wieskamp: 11.3 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game; shooting 50 percent from the field; 11 of 24 from three-point range
  • Junior guard Jordan Bohannon: 10.0 points per game, 21 assists through six games
  • Redshirt freshman guard Connor McCaffery: 9.0 points per game. 50 percent from the field (12 of 24); 85.3 percent free-throw shooter (29 of 34); 23 assists to only five turnovers through six games off the bench

Iowa is off to a 6-0 start this season and is ranked No. 14 in the country. What has led to the strong start, and what is the general feeling about this Hawkeyes team heading into Friday night’s match-up?

The feeling is actually incredible. I think I was probably the most pessimistic person on staff when it came to this Iowa basketball season and well I am happy to be eating crow.

A couple of things have led to the strong start. First, we have to start with the defense, where the Hawkeyes have allowed under one point a possession for six consecutive games, allowing Pitt to score just 22 in the second half on Tuesday. That didn’t happen last year!

Second, I think the emergence of Connor McCaffery as a playmaker has been instrumental. Basically we’re used to seeing this offense live and die by Jordan Bohannon running the point, but C-Mac has proven he’s more than capable to play the one or two and thrive. He didn’t have the best game against Pitt, but after all the hardship he went through last year, it’s really inspiring to see him contribute this season.

And finally, I think Tyler Cook going and getting evaluated by NBA scouts this offseason has helped tremendously. He’s playing on the perimeter much more than we’re used to seeing and is getting to the line at an incredible rate; over 30 percent of his scoring so far has come from the charity stripe. Which is something Iowa as a whole has been great at—right now, we’re No. 18 in the country in FT percentage.

Maybe a non-team question but still pertinent to the basketball program, what do you make of play-by-play guy Gary Dolphin being suspended for his comments about the team?

This is so dumb. I didn’t grow up in Iowa, I have no sentimental ties to Dolphin. But in announcing his suspension, and adding some Big Little Lies-esque language to the release, [athletic director] Gary Barta, and the University, have taken a story about an undefeated and ranked Iowa basketball team (coming off a season where they won four conference games and 14 games total) and made it totally about themselves and this pedantic political war over the airwaves.

I don’t care if what Dolph said was out of line (it was). I don’t care if it hurt a players feelings and made coaches furious (it did). I do care that it is taking away from the insane success this team is currently having and making it really tough for these kids to enjoy it and focus on, y’know, playing basketball. Only in Iowa is a ranked sports team overshadowed by an inept athletic director’s feud with a longtime (and beloved) radio analyst.

Biggest question—who guards Ethan Happ and can they contain him?

We start with big man Luka Garza, who’s been great so far this year. Then Ryan Kriener gets Happ duty. Kriener may be Iowa’s sixth man of the year with the way he’s playing. And then Tyler Cook is on Happ when we go small. I bet Happ doesn’t get a double double!

Four Hawkeyes average double figures through six wins, with Tyler Cook and Luke Garza putting up over 14 points per contest so far. What makes their respective games so potent, and who else should Wisconsin fans look for on Friday night?

I already talked a little about Cook’s improvement—I think he’s also playing with the most confidence we’ve seen from him so far. Garza is just coming into his own as a true sophomore. Last year was so toxic I don’t think any freshman in the country could thrive on this team. So I want to say he’s just playing up to expectations.

Other than watching out for noted Wisconsin-killer Jordan Bohannon, keep an eye on true freshman Joe Wieskamp. He led Iowa in scoring against Pitt and kept the team in the game when we were in scoring droughts. I’m excited to see what he can do in his first conference game.

Where do you feel Iowa could have advantages in this game, but where do you feel Wisconsin could have the upper hand?

God, I wish I could say we’ll have a home court advantage, but I’m not holding out hope. Attendance at Carver-Hawkeye Arena is historically abysmal and virtually non-existent. This will be the first time its hosted two ranked teams since 2015, however, and on a Friday night with nothing else going on, I’m hoping the place will rock.

Really, I just feel like Iowa’s backcourt of Cook, Garza, Kriener, Wieskamp and Nicholas Baer is going to wear Wisconsin down. Any of those guys can turn it on defensively or offensively with the flip of a switch and are pulling down rebounds I haven’t seen Iowa players come up with in years.

Wisconsin probably has the upper hand on the defensive side of the ball, mentioning their Herculean performance against Virginia, but our recent success against the Badgers tells me Fran has some sort of blueprint for beating Greg Gard.

What’s your prediction for the game?

I think we’re gonna have a really close one on our hands here, and I predict Iowa will have a comfortable halftime lead ... only to squander it and lose on an Ethan Happ tip-in, allowing this stupid Dolphin controversy to loom over questions of focus for this team, because that is what Iowa sports do.

Sconnie 77, Iowa 76.