Weekend Game To Watch: Iowa Looking For Its Signature Win At Wisconsin

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 5th, 2014

The game to watch this weekend is, without a doubt, today’s match-up of Iowa visiting Wisconsin. It’s the only Big Ten contest this weekend where both teams are ranked, and the Badgers are a robust eight-point favorite according to KenPom.com. This isn’t surprising given that the Badgers have been the most impressive team in the conference and Madison is a tough place for any team to visit. It would therefore seem as if this game is all upside for Fran McCaffery’s group as it has nothing to lose. Thus far, Iowa has been good enough to break into the AP Top 25 and steadily move up the rankings, but not great enough to convince skeptics that the Hawkeyes are poised to battle the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State for the conference title. Iowa needs an impressive road win to convert those doubters and start to make a case for a coveted high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their best hope for doing just that today is to capitalize on the few defensive vulnerabilities of the Badgers.

Aaron White may need a big game on Sunday to get a win in Madison (Brian Ray, The Gazette via AP)

Aaron White may need a big game to get a win in Madison (Credit: Brian Ray/The Gazette via AP)

It will be no small task to get a win at Madison — both teams are highly efficient at scoring (Wisconsin scores 1.17 points per possession vs. Iowa’s 1.16) and the Badgers have the edge on defensive efficiency (0.92 PPP vs. 0.94). Bo Ryan relies on excellent man-to-man defense to deny the other team good looks at the basket; still, Iowa can look to exploit several facets of the Badgers’ defense. More specifically, the Badgers’ lack of a true shot blocker has resulted in a low block percentage of 8.6 percent (206th nationally). If McCaffery can set up Roy Devyn Marble and Jarrod Uthoff on cuts to the basket to draw weak side defenders, even slightly, they can dish it off to Aaron White, who is shooting a blistering 75 percent under the basket. Another flaw in Wisconsin’s defense is that it does not cause many turnovers. This is good for Iowa since it is not turnover-prone itself but does cause opponents to give up the ball at an above-average rate (19.5 percent of possessions).

However, getting the Badgers to give up the ball won’t be easy, as they only commit turnovers on 12.9 percent of their possessions (second fewest in the nation). If the Hawkeyes can make things uncomfortable enough with their pressure and depth so that the Badgers provide them some extra possessions, it may be enough to swing things in their direction. Finally, Iowa will need to continue its excellent defense against the three today. The Badgers do not rely on the three-point shot as much as they have in previous seasons, but it’s still a good weapon for them. Meanwhile, only 20 percent of the Hawkeyes’ shots are from three (292nd in the nation), so if Wisconsin gets hot there, it could create too much separation for Iowa to make up on the road.

Thus far, the Hawkeyes’ biggest wins have come against Xavier and Notre Dame, and their losses were against Villanova and Iowa State. That represents some good-not-great wins and no bad losses. For their work thus far, they are ranked as highly as they’ve been in years and considered one of the top four or five teams in the league. But the question remains: Can this good team beat great teams? This evening they will get a chance to prove it.

Alex Moscoso (170 Posts)

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