Fans were expecting a close game when Wisconsin hosted Iowa a week ago Tuesday, understandable considering the previous seven matchups have been decided by an average of four points. When the dust settled, Wisconsin won by 32 points, the first double digit win by either team since 2010.
It will be interesting to see how much has changed in the 11 days since the last meeting. Like the Badgers, Iowa (13-7, 4-3) has a week off since losing at Purdue last Saturday, allowing both teams to get ready for the stretch run of conference play.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as they play its second road game in a row when they travel Iowa City.
Lay up: Bench production
Wisconsin’s bench production needs to be better against Iowa and going forward. Failing for a second time this season to contribute to the scoring, Wisconsin won’t be able to consistently survive if the bench – averaging 9.5 points in Big Ten play - can’t be productive enough to take pressure off the starting lineup and add a spark.
The big bright spot for the bench over the last four games has been the play of guard Zak Showalter, who has played with a consistent energy since the Rutgers game. Showalter has only scored in two conference game, but he’s added a lot to Wisconsin by rebounding and finding open teammates. Despite not being the consistent scorer, he hasn’t tried to force anything that wasn’t there on the offensive end, and that is something that will need to continue against Iowa. Most importantly he doesn’t turn the ball over, as he has only coughed the ball up once in the last four games. Showalter was first off the bench against Michigan and that could be the case again on Saturday.
With the bench shorten because of Traevon Jackson’s injury, the scoring burden falls on Duje Dukan’s shoulders. It is unfair to Dukan to solely expect him to be responsible for the bench scoring, but it’s an explanation as to why the bench has been only able to outscore their opponents bench once this season (at Northwestern). Dukan has shown that he can find ways of getting to the hoop or being productive off of missed shots by his teammates, but he needs to be able to do that consistently and needs to be more aggressive in trying to look for his shot.
Dukan registered eight points against Iowa in the first meeting and he was able to record most of his production around the basket.
Vitto Brown has struggled since Big Ten play and has been a non-factor at times when he’s been on the floor. After showing during nonconference play that he was capable of hitting a mid-range shot from the free throw line, the shot has become non-existent, as Brown has looked more uncomfortable on the court. Brown has also started to consistently foul on the defensive side of the floor, including picking up four fouls in the first matchup against Iowa. After playing only two minutes in Michigan, a conference low, Brown needs to pick it up to give the starters in the frontcourt a breather.
Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin play a full 40 minute game?
The game against Michigan didn’t need to go into overtime after Wisconsin failed to close out the Wolverines in the second half. Iowa is currently on a two game losing streak and are set to play its first home game in two weeks, meaning the Badgers will need to be ready for Iowa’s best fight just like they were for Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Having a week to prepare for Iowa will hopefully help Wisconsin get off to a strong start. Wisconsin will need to get the ball in the paint to try and consistently go after Adam Woodbury and the rest of Iowa’s frontcourt. Wisconsin was able to register 36 points in the paint, which tied a Big Ten season high. With Woodbury struggling against Kaminsky down low, it would make sense for Wisconsin to try and follow the same game plan. Woodbury had no answer for Kaminsky’s post move as UW’s senior found ways to consistently score around the basket and record a double-double.
It is also unclear whether or not Aaron White will be able to play. If White does play against Wisconsin the question is how effective will he be? White left Iowa’s game against Purdue with a right shoulder injury and is listed day-to-day. Sam Dekker or Nigel Hayes will need to find ways of consistently driving to the hoop to see if they can force him into fouling. Depending on how healthy White’s shoulder is, he may not be very effective on defense.
Iowa can play zone defense to make up a little for White’s injury, but the Hawkeyes’ zone defense was ineffective against Wisconsin last week because the Badgers shot 6-for-14 from 3-point range in the first half. Iowa has defended the 3-point shot pretty well this year, allowing opponents to shoot 31.9 percent from three, and Wisconsin ranks seventh in the league with 35.6 percent shooting from the perimeter.
Josh Gasser and Kaminsky could play important roles in making sure Iowa can’t play zone defense the entire game, as the two rank in the top 15 in the Big Ten when it comes 3-point field goal percentage. Both are shooting above 40 percent but Gasser leads the two, as he is hitting 40.6 percent from beyond the arc on 1.4 made three’s a game. Over the last two games Gasser has made an average of 2.5 a game.
If Wisconsin can consistently find ways of scoring, it will keep Iowa’s defense honest and force the Hawkeyes to choose how they want to defend Wisconsin, which typically plays into the Badgers’ hands.
3-pointer: Repeat performances
It will be difficult for Wisconsin to duplicate what they did in the first meeting against Iowa, but the Badgers will have opportunities to walk away with a victory, especially since White won’t be 100 percent and might not play.
Regardless of White’s status, Jarrod Uthoff will have to pick up the slack as Uthoff is second on the team averaging 11.5 points a game. Uthoff was the only Iowa player to reach double figures against Wisconsin in the first match up and didn’t get there until the final minutes in garbage time. Dekker deserves credit for playing strong, aggressive defense against Uthoff by making him uncomfortable for a good portion of the game and forcing him to settle for shots from the perimeter, an area where Uthoff struggles. Dekker will need to be able to play with that same aggressiveness to limit another component of Iowa’s offense.
Assuming White does play, it will likely mean that he won’t be as effective on offense. White may not be as willing to play down low as he wants with his shoulder injury, resulting in him settling for shots from the perimeter. Hayes will have to be ready to defend White on the perimeter and be able to try and hedge screens, as Iowa will likely try and get him space to get shots off without much interference from a defender. If Hayes can be aggressive with White without fouling him, it could result in White being on the bench instead of on the floor.
Wisconsin was the aggressor in the first match up and consistently was able to box out Iowa, making sure players like White, Uthoff and Gabe Olaseni (16 rebounds vs. Purdue) don’t get the rebound off of a miss, and take care of the ball against Iowa’s pressure. The Hawkeyes tried to pressure Wisconsin’s guards by collapsing on them when players picked up their dribble. That didn’t work as well for Iowa considering the Badgers finished the game with only one team turnover.
Seldom being rattled in pressure situations, Gasser and Koenig each have turned the basketball over 10 times this season. Gasser has only had one game this year in which he has committed multiple turnovers (the season opener) and has only coughed the basketball up three times. If Iowa hopes Wisconsin will turn the basketball over and present the Hawkeyes with more chances on offense, it likely won’t happen.
Gasser will likely defend Mike Gesell, and despite him only registering two points in the first matchup, he was the player who stepped up for when White left the game early. Gesell finished the game against Purdue with a season-high 18 points and he could pick up the slack once again for White. Gasser had some difficulty in slowing down Derrick Walton, who found ways of bowling over defenders at times, so UW’s best defensive guard needs to be able to do a better job of staying in front of Gesell and forcing him to settle for shots from the perimeter. Gesell, like Walton, needs to get into the paint to have success but Gasser can control the tempo with aggressive defense.