Entering February ranked in the top 10, Wisconsin posted a 3-4 record during the shortest month of the year, tumbled in the polls and now sit 1.5 games behind in the Big Ten race. All four losses came to unranked opponents, but only by an average of 8.2 points, suggesting Wisconsin – now No.22 in the country – doesn’t need a massive overhaul to get things headed in the right direction.
Looking to avoid its first three game losing streak of the season, the Badgers will need to be ready to take on an Iowa team that has won its past two games and is averaging 80.6 points this season.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (22-7, 11-5 Big Ten) as they prepare to play Iowa (16-13, 8-8).
LAY UP: CAN WISCONSIN DEFEND THE 3-POINT LINE?
Wisconsin has allowed at least 80 points in consecutive games, uncharacteristically poor defense for a team that has held opposing Big Ten teams to shoot 42.2 percent from the field. The same can’t be said for Wisconsin’s 3-point defense, which ranks 13th in the Big Ten at 40.7 percent.
Iowa has been inconsistent from three over conference play and are shooting 35.7 percent from the perimeter, but the Hawkeyes are coming off an impressive 16-for-26 (61.5 percent) perimeter shooting night Saturday in their win at Maryland. Four different players made at least two threes, including freshman Jordan Bohannon going an impressive 8-of-10 from distance.
That kind of performance by the Hawkeyes needs to catch Wisconsin’s attention, considering over the last five games the Badgers have allowed teams to shoot 45.1 percent (41-for-91) from three. Last Thursday Ohio State lit up Wisconsin with a Big Ten-high 62.5 percent (10-for-16) from three.
If Wisconsin wants to keep pace with an Iowa offense that averages 77.3 points per game over Big Ten play, the Badgers can’t allow Bohannon or Peter Jok to get a clean look off from three. Wisconsin has allowed an average of 7.1 made threes over conference play compared to the 7.7 made threes a game by Iowa, as Bohannon and Jok are responsible for 55.2 percent of Iowa’s made three pointers over conference play.
Jok is certainly a talented scorer, averaging 20.6 points this season and is shooting above 40 percent from the perimeter in three of the last five games. Bohannon’s play as of late has been able to help take pressure off of Jok and allow him more scoring opportunities, making the Hawkeyes a more dangerous offense.
MID-RANGE JUMPER: CAN WISCONSIN CONTINUE TO PROTECT THE BALL?
Wisconsin’s offense may be struggling to find consistency, but the Badgers have made sure they haven’t hurt themselves by turning the ball over. The eight turnovers at Michigan State Sunday marked the third straight game Wisconsin committed single digit turnovers, averaging an impressive 7.6 turnovers per game over that stretch.
The consistency Wisconsin has displayed in terms of protecting the ball will be challenged against Iowa, which average 7.9 steals a game and has forced conference opponents into a league-best 15 turnovers per game. For comparisons, Nebraska ranks second in steals over Big Ten play (7.4) and the Huskers created eight in their lone match-up with the Badgers. Over the last five games Iowa’s defense has averaged 8.8 steals, not to mention registering at least 10 steals twice.
Wisconsin has averaged 10.5 turnovers a game over conference play, third in the league, and the Badgers will need to be cognizant of Nicholas Baer (1.3 steals per Big Ten game), Bohannon (1.3) and Jok (1.2). The trio have played an important role in helping force teams into an average of 17.6 turnovers over the last five games, including forcing 22 turnovers against Indiana and 21 against Michigan State. Bohannon (eight steals), Jok (eight), and Baer (six steals) have been responsible for 22 of Iowa’s 44 steals over the last five games.
Bohannon will likely defend Zak Showalter, Jok should defend Bronson Koenig and Baer will likely see a lot of Nigel Hayes (1.7 turnovers a game), Koenig (1.4) and Showalter (1.1) have shown at times to be strong taking care of the ball. In particular, Koenig has committed only four turnovers in the last five games.
Wisconsin hasn’t shot above 44 percent in the last nine games, so allowing one of Iowa’s ball thieves to steal away an offensive possession will zap rhythm and momentum.
3-POINTER: TAKING ADVANTAGE OF IOWA’S DEFENSE
Iowa may lead the league in steals due to its gambles, but that comes at a price with the Hawkeyes allowing opposing Big Ten teams to take advantage and generate a quality look on offense. For a Wisconsin team that is shooting 41.1 percent (119-for-290) from the field over the last five games, the Badgers will need to find a way to capitalize.
The Hawkeyes rank last in the conference in scoring defense (79.1 ppg), allow teams to shoot 46.1 percent from the field and opponents to shoot 36.1 percent from three. If Wisconsin is going to have success on offense, it will begin with the play of Koenig, Hayes and Ethan Happ.
Over the last five games the trio have had their ups and downs, looking dominant at times before becoming nonfactors. Hayes has registered two double-doubles over the last three games and hit double figures in three of the five games, including two 20-point performances. Hayes has shot above 40 percent from the field in four of the last five games but over that stretch hasn’t put together back-to-back double-digit scoring games.
Happ has had to deal with consistent double teams since posting consecutive 20-point games against Michigan and Maryland, as Ohio State and Michigan State held him to a combined 10 points on 6-for-15 shooting. Although Happ’s offensive opportunities have been limited as of late, he’s still shooting 55.3 percent from the field over the last five games on an average of 9.4 attempts a game.
Creating spacing on offense will begin with Hayes and Happ finding success around the rim. One of the reasons why Iowa is allowing teams to shoot 46.1 percent from the field is due to the fact they haven’t been able to protect the paint. Iowa has allowed its last five conference opponents to average 35.6 points in the paint, a number inflated by Minnesota scoring 50 points in a double overtime game. In the other four games, Iowa has allowed at least 32 points in the paint.
If Wisconsin can consistently set screens in order to allow someone to cut to the hoop, Happ should be able to register an assist out of a double team for an open look. Wisconsin needs to find its offensive flow, especially with its defensive being unreliable the last two outings.