IOWA HAWKEYES (16-13)
WISCONSIN BADGERS (22-7)
Kohl Center – Madison, WI
Tip-off: Thursday, 9:00pm ET
#22 Wisconsin looks to avoid a third straight loss when they host Iowa in a Thursday night Big Ten tilt.
Wisconsin (12-14 ATS), once neck-and-neck with Purdue for the regular season Big Ten title, has now lost four of their last five games. The Badgers have a tenuous half-game hold on second place in the conference, but five teams are within two losses of Wisconsin heading into the final week of the season. Only the top four teams in the Big Ten get double-byes in the conference tournament next week. Iowa (11-13-2 ATS), unlike Wisconsin, may be peaking at just the right time. Their 83-69 (Iowa +6.5) win at then-#24 Maryland on Saturday pushed the Hawkeyes up to the periphery of being a bubble team should they continue their success this week. At 8-8 in conference play, if they can beat Wisconsin on Thursday they’ll have defeated the top three Big Ten teams (Wisconsin, Purdue, Maryland) as well as now-25th ranked Iowa State. Iowa is just 2-7 (2-6-1) on the road, but a double-digit win over a ranked opponent on the road shows how formidable a foe the Hawkeyes can be. Wisconsin is just 1-6 ATS over their last seven contests, which includes their first home loss of the season, 66-59 (WI -11) against Northwestern on Feb. 12. The Badgers are just 6-10 ATS in Big Ten play (4-4 ATS at home in conference play). The OVER is 4-1-1 in Wisconsin’s last six games while, comparatively, the UNDER is 4-2 in Iowa’s last six. Wisconsin has shown recent historical domination over Iowa, taking the last six contests dating back to Feb. 2013. The Badgers have also covered in each of the last four meetings between these two teams, but the Hawkeyes covered six straight (Feb. 2011-Jan. 2014) prior. Wisconsin is just 1-4 ATS at home against Iowa since 2011, as the underdog is 8-2 ATS over the past 10 meetings. While the total has split evenly between OVER and UNDER in the past four meetings, the OVER is 7-2 in the past nine.
Iowa put forth arguably their most impressive all-around performance of the season in Saturday’s road upset of Maryland. Maybe Coach Fran McCaffery’s crew was still riding the adrenaline of their 96-90 (PK) overtime victory over Indiana earlier that week, but the Hawkeyes rode into College Park and shot a scorching 61.5% from downtown (16-for-26). More impressively, Iowa’s big road win over Maryland – in which they scored 83 points – was done without much help from star G Peter Jok (20.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 92% FT), who had just 10 points on 3-for-10 from the field. Jok did have 35 points in the win over Indiana (15 coming in overtime), and registered a game-high 21 points last season against Wisconsin. Prior to the win at Maryland, Iowa’s only other road win was against lowly Rutgers. Two freshmen led the Hawkeyes in their win over the Terrapins as G Jordan Bohannon (9.7 PPG, 4.5 APG, 39.5 3PT) and F Tyler Cook (12.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG) initiated a strong inside-outside assault. The pair combined for 45 points with Bohannon hitting eight threes, and Cook (8-of-13 FG) amassing a double-double. If Jok – the conference’s leading scorer – returns to form and players like Cook and Bohannon keep their strong play going, Iowa is going to be a tough matchup for anyone. Iowa’s defense leaves a lot to be desired (77.7 PPG, 289th in NCAA), and they’ll have to be more vigilant on the glass (39.3 RPG allowed, 328th in NCAA) -- especially against Wisconsin’s talented front line. Iowa does play at the third-fastest pace amongst Power 7 conference schools, so these numbers are somewhat inflated; the Hawkeyes haven’t let an opponent shoot better than 36% from beyond the arc in eight straight games.
Wisconsin’s troubles as of late are showing up on both ends of the floor. The normally stout Badgers defense (62.1 PPG, 10th in NCAA), which holds opponents to just 41% FG (38th in NCAA), has been lit up for 83.5 points per game in their last two losses (Ohio State, Michigan State). The Badgers offense, also not holding up their end of the bargain, has been out-shot (FG%) in each of Wisconsin’s past seven games and the Badgers haven’t eclipsed the 44% FG mark in any of their last eight contests. An aspect of defense that Wisconsin has struggled with all season is defending the three (37.8% 3PT allowed, 308th in NCAA) and Big Ten opposition has feasted on the Badgers’ Achilles heel lately. Coach Greg Gard’s group has allowed four of their last five opponents to shoot better than 41% from downtown, highlighted by Ohio State’s 10-of-16 (62.5% 3PT) performance from distance last Thursday. Iowa drains 8.4 threes per game, so it’ll be interesting to see if Wisconsin can get out to the Hawkeyes shooters and change this narrative. One positive over the last week for the Badgers is that G Bronson Koenig (13.9 PPG) looks healthy again. The previously injured guard erupted for 27 points against Ohio State last Thursday (9-for-15 FG) and gutted through a tough shooting performance to log 38 minutes in a 17-point outing against Michigan State on Sunday. Koenig scored a team-high 15 points (4-of-6 3PT) in last season’s win over Iowa. Unfortunately F Ethan Happ (14.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG), who’s been Wisconsin’s best player all season, has hit a bit of a slump. Happ totaled only 12 points against the Buckeyes and Spartans last week while finding himself in foul trouble in both contests. Happ now has a string of six straight games with 4+ fouls, as teams are attacking the big man in the paint. Wisconsin needs Happ on the floor as six of the Badgers seven losses show Happ with at least four fouls. Senior F Nigel Hayes (13.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG) put forth his best Big Ten effort on Sunday against Michigan State (22 points, 11 rebounds, four assists), and may be putting together a strong individual push in his last season wearing the red and white. Hayes’ 22 attempts from the field were a career high, as his aggressiveness also saw the senior go to the line 12 times (converting four). Unfortunately, Hayes has been inefficient and inconsistent, only shooting above 50% from the field once in his past 11 games.