The Wisconsin Badgers (12-8 overall, 5-4 B1G) are right back at it again on Monday night. UW continues their road trip with a jaunt down to Iowa City to take on the red-hot No. 19 Iowa Hawkeyes (14-5 overall, 5-3 B1G).
The Badgers are coming off a disheartening beat down at the hands of the Purdue Boilermakers while Iowa has won four straight and is clicking on all cylinders offensively. The Hawkeyes have a national player of the year candidate in big man Luka Garza and a host of shooters that they’ve surrounded him with.
We wanted to know more about the Hawks, so we asked Jonah Parker of Black Heart Gold Pants, our SB Nation Iowa cousins, to give us the inside scoop on how Iowa has been playing so far this season.
1) Can you give us a quick overview of Iowa’s season so far? After a rough start to B1G play it seems that the Hawkeyes have found their stride. To what do you attribute that?
Iowa’s season really has been a roller coaster ride. That’s in large part due to the absurd number of injuries. I’m sure you’re fan base is aware Jordan Bohannon is out for the year with a hip injury. He’s joined on the IR by starting PF Jack Nunge, who tore his ACL four games into the season, as well as sixth man and former 4-star SF Patrick McCaffery, who is dealing with residual effects of his cancer treatment.
All those injuries made it difficult for the Hawkeyes to find an identity early in the year. As the season has gone on, they’ve built themselves around Luka Garza, who has been tremendous. Rather than play with traditional positions, Fran has paired Garza with four guards for large portions of games.
That’s in stark contrast to prior Iowa teams that have been built on length. This group has a slew of ball handlers, enough shooters with the return of CJ Fredrick, and guys who can get their own shot at any time with Joe Wieskamp and freshman Joe Toussaint.
2) Besides a tank, what is the best way to defend Luka Garza? Does he have any weaknesses?
That’s the question we’re all looking to answer. Thus far, we’ve seen two things be moderately successful. Nebraska triple-teamed Garza for most of the game and came away with a win. I highly doubt the Hawkeyes shoot 12% from three for an entire game again this season, and therefore don’t advise using that strategy. Especially considering Garza still finished with 16 points and 18 boards.
Northwestern took a different approach, attacking him on the other end and getting him in foul trouble. That limited Garza to just 24 minutes, effectively limiting his output. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Luka scored Iowa’s first 10 points of the game and when he re-entered in the second half, proceeded to score 14 straight. He finished with 27 points.
I think the best approach is to employ some combination of those strategies. Attack Garza on defense and attempt to limit his minutes. When he is in, mix up defenses with double and triple teams. But emphasize on ball defense on the perimeter to limit entry passes. If Garza touches the ball on the block it almost doesn’t matter how many defenders you throw at him. It sounds absurd and it has to be maddening for an opponent, but it’s been a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
3) Iowa is No. 3 in the country on KenPom in both AdjO efficiency and assists/field goals made. Who makes Iowa’s offense operate like a well-oiled machine?
It all starts with Garza. He’s so incredibly efficient. As mentioned, he can easily rattle off 10 straight points and he does it from all over the floor. On the block, he’s got the best footwork I’ve ever seen. He isn’t the most athletic (read: he is not at all athletic) but he has every move you’ve ever seen employed at the YMCA in his arsenal. He’s excellent at the reverse pivot into a mid-range jumper and he’s shooting 39% from three.
When teams are forced to put so much emphasis on a player of his caliber, it really opens things up for guys like Wieskamp, who is also quietly on his way to being All-Big Ten, and Fredrick on the outside. It’s a very balanced attack with a number of weapons.
4) Who is the player on the Hawkeyes that will make Wisconsin fans sound smart to their friends at the bar when they say “watch out for this guy”?
I’ll give you two. CJ Fredrick is the third banana on this team. Garza is incredible and Wieskamp is going to play in the league, but Fredrick makes a major difference. He’s a 48% three-point shooter and is hitting 52% from deep in Carver. His absence was a major factor in Iowa’s losses at Penn State and Nebraska. He’s Jordan Bohannon with five more inches and better on-ball defense.
The other is Joe Toussaint (pictured above). He’s the quickest player I can remember on an Iowa roster and often times he gets going too fast for his own good. But when he’s under control, he can get to the rim on anyone. He’s not a great outside shooter and he likely won’t lead the team in scoring. But he’s good for at least one play a game where your eyes get wide and you wonder how the hell he did that.
5) Final score prediction and leading scorer for Iowa, please.
Well, KenPom has this as 72-66 in favor of the Hawkeyes and he’s much smarter than I am. However, after watching Iowa drop 85 on Rutgers, I’m inclined to think this one is higher scoring. So I’ll stick with KenPom’s margin with more total points: Iowa 82, Wisconsin 76. And anyone who doesn’t pick Luka Garza to lead all scorers is being stubborn. I’ll say he gets 24 and fully realize I’ve just jinxed Garza and the entire team.