Iowa's season marches on Wednesday when they host Wisconsin. The Badgers are one of the hottest teams in not only the Big Ten, but America. They won seven conference games in a row at one point and the streak currently sits at eight wins out of their last nine contests.
Greg Gard and the Badgers enter the showdown with a 17-10 overall record and 9-5 in the league. Iowa shows up with a 20-6 record over the course of the season and 11-3 in the Big Ten.
Iowa is of course coming off a stunning letdown in State College where they fell to Penn State 79-75. It was the first bad loss on their slate this season. Wisconsin did lose to Michigan State in East Lansing about a week ago but they were also victorious in come-from-behind fashion against Illinois on Sunday.
It almost feels like a must-win for the Hawkeyes. They want to stay undefeated at home. They've lost two of three and are in need of a victory. They need to keep in line with the Hoosiers atop the league. There's stil la chance for an outright league title but it may require a 4-0 finish to the season. It's a chance to put the sting of the Penn State loss behind them. It shows that the ship isn't broken and it was just a minor rut. They can put a lot to rest by defeating the Badgers at home on Wednesday.
It probably isn't a must-win for Wisconsin. Yes, they're on the bubble. Yes, they fall to 17-11 overall but the 9-5 conference record probably helps immensely when measured up against fellow bubble teams. They are in the midst of a good streak. The following two games are more winnable. They have to beat Michigan at home and win on the road at Minnesota.
I think there's more of a sense of urgency tomorrow night for Iowa. They need this one much more than Wisconsin for reasons stated above. I know Wisconsin is fighting to get in the tournament and Iowa is already a lock, but the Hawkeyes have more riding on this matchup. I think it shows on the court.
Now I will caution those who will watch the game. Jarrod Uthoff could have his hands full. There's about three teams in the Big Ten that have the horses to defend Uthoff and put a lid on him. Obviously Maryland is one and they did so because of the length and athleticism and versatility of Robert Carter and Jake Layman. Indiana sort of can as well because of the emergence of OG Anunoby. Now it could leave them susceptible to other scorers, but Nigel Hayes has the versatility, length, strength, and athleticism to defend Uthoff because he can go inside and guard him and pop out on the perimeter and crowd him. So Wisconsin can as well.
However, that means there will be issues other places. Who guards Peter Jok? Showalter, Brown, or Koenig? I'll take Jok against all three. They'll need Koenig to defend Gesell or Clemmons most likely. Iowa has an advantage on the perimeter by far. They also have a speed and athleticism advantage. Penn State did well by slowing it down against the Hawkeyes. Wisconsin will want to do the same and they are obviously more than capable. But I think Iowa can instill their pace on this one because they establish the tempo early because of their sense of urgency and being at home.
Another area to be concerned with will be the defensive rebounding against Wisconsin. It's an issue for Iowa. It hasn't been one that has just popped up or one that has gone away. It's been around. The Badgers have two horses who crash the glass well with a lot of energy in Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes.
There's a lot of reason to believe Wisconsin keeps this one close. Hayes is a good matchup to defend Uthoff. They are able to slow the pace down against Iowa like others have. They could crash the offensive glass against a Hawkeyes squad that is susceptible to allowing second chance opportunities. The spread in this one is 9.5 points in favor of Iowa. That seems a bit much to me. And I'd roll with Wisconsin if the Hawkeyes are giving that much in Vegas.
I think Iowa still gets the win. Peter Jok scores a fair share and they start well to establish the pace that they want. I do think it's close. Wisconsin closes the gap with offensive rebounds. They close the gap by containing Jarrod Uthoff's offensive scoring to an extent. The Hawkeyes squeak it out because of an increase in defensive energy, Peter Jok's scoring, and someone else stepping up on the offensive side of things. I'll say it's Anthony Clemmons. He's very good at attacking the rim and his speed might be a tough guard for Wisconsin.