The competitive recent history between Wisconsin and Iowa held true to form in the teams' first meeting this season, when the game was decided by an infamous margin of four points. After the Frantrum in Madison on Jan. 5, a couple of Iowa players were salty about losing to the Badgers and made clear in interviews they believed the Hawkeyes were the better team.
If Iowa (19-6, 8-4 Big Ten) cannot win Saturday's rematch in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes can stop worrying about conference strength of schedule because they will only have themselves to blame.
Consistency for 40 minutes is the key for both teams. Wisconsin (21-5, 8-5) cannot afford to come out as flat as it did in Madison, when the Badgers spotted Iowa an 11-point halftime lead. However, it took Roy Devyn Marble 19 shots to score his 27 points, and UW contained Aaron White's impact. Now that UW has corrected its defensive problems, it goes on this road trip with renewed confidence and a four-game winning streak.
The scouting report on the Hawkeyes is clear. Iowa is an elite offensive unit that loves to run. The Hawks rank first in adjusted tempo during Big Ten play at 68.5 possessions per game, and they are averaging over 71 possessions on the season. Don't forget that Iowa's defense is near-elite as well, a team that is better than most at taking Wisconsin out of its comfort zone.
In honor of the rematch, welcome back RossWB from Black Heart Gold Pants...
B5Q: Before we get started on the rematch, what are the latest details about rescheduling the Iowa-Indiana game? What's your gut feeling about how the two sides (or Jim Delaney) resolves this?
Black Heart Gold Pants (Ross): Things seem to be inching towards the game getting rescheduled for February 27th in Bloomington. That's really the only date before the end of the season that makes any sense at all and everyone involved seems unwilling to extend the regular season an extra day or so. I think it gets resolved with Iowa heading to Indiana next Thursday (the 27th), probably with Indiana or the Big Ten footing the bill for Iowa's return trip to the Hoosier State. I don't think that's an ideal solution, but this is hardly an ideal situation, either. It was unfortunate that this incident occurred in the first place, but it was doubly unfortunate that it occurred so late in the regular season, when there were very limited options for make-up dates.
(Ed. note: A Big Ten release this morning confirmed Feb. 27 as the makeup date; the Purdue-Iowa game was also pushed back one day, to March 2.)
B5Q: And one follow-up: Do you think the postponement has had any effect -- good or bad -- on Iowa with regard to preparation the Wisconsin game?
BHGP: I think for the Wisconsin game itself the postponement is largely a positive for Iowa. Iowa was a bit banged up for last week's game against Penn State -- regular contributor (and backup point guard) Anthony Clemmons was sidelined with a sprained ankle, while occasional contributor (and additional back court depth) Peter Jok was out with a knee injury, while starter Melsahn Basabe was under the weather with the effects of the flu -- but it sounds like they should be pretty close to full-strength for the Wisconsin game tomorrow. So they should be healthy and (very) well-rested, as well as chomping at the bit to get back on the court to finally play again.
I think it's a negative for the rest of the season, since it means Iowa's going to have a pretty hairy schedule for the remainder of the regular season. Between this Saturday and the final Saturday of the regular season, two weeks from now, Iowa's going to squeeze in six games, which is a lot of basketball. But you also play a lot of games in a short time frame during tournaments (conference and otherwise) in March, as well as early season tournaments in November, so it's not like this sort of schedule is unheard of. In fact, Iowa played some of their finest basketball of the season earlier this year when they played Xavier, UTEP, and Villanova back-to-back-to-back at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament and then played Notre Dame just three days later.
Must Read Q&A:
Must Read Q&A:
B5Q: After losing to the Badgers in Madison, Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble made pointed comments about Iowa being better than Wisconsin. It could be viewed as a culmination of their frustration after losing several close games to ranked opponents. Since that meeting, Wisconsin has dipped and recovered while Iowa has been lurking quietly in that third place position seemingly forever. Do you feel like the events since the first game have validated those players' feelings?
BHGP: Well, I think the other thing that validates their opinion is that Iowa was unquestionably better than Wisconsin for part of that game -- the first half for sure, and the last few minutes of the second half maybe. (Wisconsin was much better for the rest of the second half.) Iowa led 35-24 at the break and it could have (should have?) been more than that. I think Iowa's biggest problem this year has been playing at a high level consistently and closing out games with high-level play. They blew second-half leads against Villanova, Iowa State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State and while those are all good teams, Iowa needs to win a few more of those games if they want to a) live up to their potential and b) get the respect they crave.
I also think this Wisconsin team is playing better than they were back in early January, when our teams first tussled. Wisconsin had a few head-scratching losses in that span (Indiana? Northwestern?!), but they also scored a solid home win over Michigan State and a very impressive road win over Michigan more recently. Four wins in a row and five in seven games is a pretty impressive stretch, especially this year in the parity-riddled Big Ten. Ultimately, I do think Iowa is better than Wisconsin this year... but the gap isn't that big and Wisconsin has looked a bit better in big games than Iowa has so far this year.
B5Q: Will Bo Ryan get T'd up in Iowa City?
BGHP: Probably not, since Iowa fans (regrettably) aren't allowed to suit up as referees for this game. For all his bug-eyed expressions, angry exhortations, and manic gesticulations, Bo doesn't seem to actually rack up that many technical fouls. It's good to be a superstar coach in the Big Ten, I suppose (see also: Izzo, Tom and his ability to camp out on the court).
B5Q: Who gets your vote for first-team all-conference: Roy Devyn Marble, Aaron White, or both?
BGHP: I love the carrot-topped dunkmonster and he's one of my all-time favorite Hawkeyes to watch, but it's gotta be Marble. He's scored in double figures in every Big Ten game this season, which is an impressive feat; even when his shots haven't been falling (like last week against Penn State) he's found ways to score points (primarily by getting to the line a lot). He's also been a solid rebounder, a willing and able passer, and a tenacious defender (two weeks ago he played a key role in stifling Nik Stauskas), all while being Iowa's on-court leader. Put it this way: Marble is a contender for Big Ten Player of the Year. White, for all his marvelous dunks and impressive rebounding ability, isn't. I know the back court in the Big Ten is pretty loaded this year, but there has to be room for Marble on the first team, at least based on the first two-thirds of the season.
B5Q: Iowa has gone 1-2 against upper tier Big Ten teams at home over the last four weeks, so I'll ask you a question I have posed to others: Has the importance of home court advantage been diminished in this league?
BGHP: It sure feels that way, both as an Iowa fan and as a general observer of the league. Although as I say that, I watched Michigan State and Nebraska both pick up blowout wins at home tonight, so maybe the tide is turning back towards the home teams? Or maybe I'm overrating the results of a few games. (Nahhh...) In all seriousness, though, I do think home court has been a bit less of a factor this year because the teams are so incredibly evenly matched. The teams at the top seem pretty evenly matched, the teams at the bottom seem a bit better than in years past (except Illinois... LOL Illinois), and the teams in the middle of the league seem capable of giving any team fits. This year it really seems to come down to which team is better able to exploit key matchups and which teams manage to get hot (or, alternatively, which teams go really, really cold) during a game.
B5Q: I get the sense that the Iowa fanbase has sort of a love-hate relationship with sophomore point guard Mike Gesell. To me he seems like a pretty nice piece to have on board. Then he'll make a ridiculous, head-slapping play. Is Fran McCaffery satisfied with Gesell's play? Would you trade him for Traevon Jackson straight up?
BGHP: I definitely wouldn't say that Iowa fans "hate" him, but I think it would be fair to say that Iowa fans wish he was a bit further along in his development curve than he is at the moment. Mind you, that basically just means that they wish he was "really good" instead of just "good," which is what he's been this year (free throw shooting aside, where he was regressed in spectacular and stupefying fashion). By most standards, Gesell has definitely improved as a sophomore: he's averaging slightly fewer points per game (7.8 vs. 8.7), but he's shooting better from deep (38% vs. 32%) and his assist:turnover ratio has improved significantly (3.9:1.2 vs. 2.6:1.7). Moreover, Iowa fans have widely come to recognize that he's the engine that makes Iowa's offense really hum; when he's sat for stretches this year (either to be rested or because of foul trouble) Iowa's offense has had a worrisome tendency to bog down.
I think Fran is, by and large, very satisfied with Gesell's play; there are probably a few things he wish he did better, but overall I think he has a lot of confidence and trust in Gesell. As for a straight up trade for Jackson... oof. I've been impressed with Jackson ever since he emerged last season and I think he's a very talented point guard that really brings a lot to the table. From a logistical standpoint, I'd be a little concerned about whether or not Jackson could fit into Iowa's system smoothly, and I'd also be concerned about the fact that he has a year less eligibility than Gesell. But if we were just looking at their respective abilities straight up... I'd probably take Jackson by a hair, mainly thanks to his slightly superior shooting skills.
B5Q: Now that Jarrod Uthoff's production has tailed off a bit in conference play and the venue has shifted to Carver-Hawkeye Arena, former Hawkeye commit Ben Brust may be the one subject to scrutiny and boos on Saturday. Brust has been the catalyst in each of the last two Wisconsin games versus Iowa, averaging 18.5 points in Badger wins. Do Iowa fans really still feel contempt for the guy?
BGHP: Sure. I don't think it's a white-hot hatred of him or any sort of really passionate vitriol, but they don't like him and I imagine they'll let him know that on Saturday. I think there's always going to be some bad feelings there, in part because his decision to flip from Iowa to one of Iowa's biggest rivals is always going to rankle a bit and in part because of the perception of what he represents, in terms of transfers. There's a perception among Iowa fans that Iowa (and Fran) let him go graciously and didn't impede his journey to Madison, while in the case of Uthoff the perception is that Wisconsin (and Bo) were anything but gracious in letting him go and set a few roadblocks in his journey to Iowa City. That doesn't really have any connection to what Brust did -- or didn't do -- but I think Iowa fans' perception of him is always going to be tied up in those situations. Long story short: yes, he's going to get booed on Saturday.
We're happy any time Ross is able to help out previewing Iowa -- especially if it leads to Wisconsin victories! Once again, you can find him on Twitter @RossWB and get more Hawkeye thoughts than you ever wanted @BHGP.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Frank Kaminsky, Jr.||C||Adam Woodbury, So.|
|Sam Dekker, So.||F||Aaron White, Jr.|
|Josh Gasser, Jr.||G / F||Melsahn Basabe, Sr.|
|Ben Brust, Sr.||G||Roy Devyn Marble, Sr.|
|Traevon Jackson, Jr.||G||Mike Gesell, So.|
KenPom win probability: 29% (79-73 L) 69 possessions
Join the Badger conversation on Facebook! Go to our Facebook page and "like" us!
For more Wisconsin basketball coverage, follow Phil on Twitter @hoopsmarinara.