Wisconsin didn’t earn any style points in its win over Illinois Sunday, but it was a game it needed to win to preserve its N.C.A.A. tournament profile. Wisconsin has made a strong case recently, winning eight of nine after storming back from 13 points down in the second half to beat the Illini.
Wisconsin can take another step in the right direction of making the tournament when they travel to Iowa City to play No. 8 Iowa tonight. Unlike the Badgers, the Hawkeyes have had a week off since their last game, a surprising four-point loss at Penn State. While Iowa will be well rested, Wisconsin will be playing its third game in a seven days. Who that impacts? We’ll find out.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (17-10, 9-5 Big Ten) in order to win the lone regular season matchup against Iowa (20-6, 11-3).
Lay Up: Nigel Hayes putting two halves together
Hayes was part of the reason why Wisconsin made its comeback Sunday, as he led Wisconsin in the second half with 13 points by going 4-for-5 from the field and the free throw line.
But the efficiency Hayes played with over the final 20 minutes wasn’t the same efficiency he has played with over the three previous halves. After making one field goal against Michigan State, he followed up that performance by going 0-for-5 in the first half against Illinois. In fact, the slow starts are starting to become a trend for Hayes. Over the last five games, there have been only two games where the junior has made multiple shots from the field over the first 20 minutes.
If you look at Hayes’ shooting numbers a little closer, you’ll find that he gets stronger from the field as the game goes on. Hayes is shooting 35.4 percent in the first half but the number jumps up 6.7 percent to 42.1 percent in the second half.
If Wisconsin wants to pull the upset, Hayes needs to get off to a better start compared to the 25.7 percent (9-for-35) he’s shot in the first half over the last five games. But like he has all season, that number has jumped significantly over the last 20 minutes, as he has shot 44.8 percent (13-for-29) over that same time span.
In the two matchups last year against Iowa, Hayes averaged 15 points on a combined 11-for-19 shooting. If Ethan Happ can continue his strong offensive play over the last two games, it should help open up opportunities for Hayes, who will need to produce to help strike a balance amongst its scorers. Iowa is holding teams to 40.9 percent shooting from the field, which ranks fifth in the Big Ten.
Mid-Range Jumper: Can Wisconsin generate second chance opportunities?
Although having lost the rebounding battle eight times in conference play, Wisconsin has done a nice job of generating second chances, as its 11.9 offensive rebounds per game rank fourth in the Big Ten.
Over the last five games the Badgers have registered double digit offensive rebounds three times. Wisconsin being a strong offensive rebounding team plays into a weakness of Iowa, which gives up 12.5 offensive rebounds per game. UW will have to compete with the length in Iowa’s frontcourt with the 6-9 Jarrod Uthoff and the 7-1 Adam Woodbury, but the Badgers have been able to out maneuver similar style players by being aggressive and having good positioning on the low block.
Happ leads Wisconsin by averaging eight rebounds per game, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he also leads Wisconsin with 2.4 offensive rebounds. More likely than not, Happ will be battling Woodbury for the rebound when a shot goes up, as Iowa’s senior averages 7.9 a game. The Badgers will also need to be wary of Uthoff in the low post, as he leads the conference with 2.9 blocks per game. As a team, Iowa is blocking 5.4 shots per contest.
Even with Wisconsin generating second chance opportunities, the Badgers are just averaging 8.8 points off their offensive rebounds in conference play. Surpassing that number against Iowa would be big for UW’s offense.
3-Pointer: Slowing down Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok
Wisconsin will certainly be tested on defense again by two talented offensive players in Uthoff (18.8 points per game) and Jok (16.3). Making up 43.1 percent of Iowa’s 80.1 points per game, Uthoff and Jok are just one of two pairs of teammates that rank in the top 10 in scoring in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin has struggled at times this year to slow down talented scorers and Uthoff fits that bill. Second in the conference in scoring, Uthoff has scored in double digits in every single game this year except when he went 2-for-13 for nine points in the road loss at Maryland. In the six games since, Uthoff has averaged 20.3 points on a combined 41-for-98 (41.7 percent).
With Hayes likely to get the assignment, Wisconsin’s junior will have to use his length and strength to be a consistent disruptive presence. Uthoff is turnover prone, having committed a total of seven in the last two games and committed eight in a win over Michigan State earlier this year. Happ could also play a big part in Uthoff’s struggles, as he leads the conference with 48 steals. Wisconsin will need to be able to create those extra offensive possessions for themselves and try to disrupt Uthoff’s rhythm.
But even if Wisconsin can find a way to slow down Uthoff, the Badgers still have to worry about Jok. Like Uthoff, the junior has been in an offensive rhythm lately by shooting 55 percent or better in four of the last six games. The combination between Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter will certainly be a challenge of keeping Jok in front of them, as he doesn’t settle for bad shoots and had made 44.9 percent from the field this year and leads the team with 68 3-pointers.
As if those two weren’t enough, point guard Mike Gesell can efficiently distribute the ball, as his 6.2 assists ranks third in the Big Ten. Regardless of who Gesell is locating on offense, the Badgers’ defense will need to be able to defend a Hawkeyes offense shooting 46.1 percent on the season.