College Basketball
Wisconsin-Iowa Preview
College Basketball

Wisconsin-Iowa Preview

Updated Mar. 4, 2020 11:03 a.m. ET

(AP) - For Iowa, the math is simple.

Four straight wins would make the Hawkeyes outright Big Ten champions for the first time in 46 years.

It won't be easy.

No. 8 Iowa (20-6, 11-3) is one-half game behind Indiana entering Wednesday night's home game against Wisconsin (17-10, 9-5). The Hoosiers also hold a tiebreaker after beating the Hawkeyes earlier this month.


But four consecutive wins would put Iowa at 15-3. Maryland and Indiana would both have at least four league losses under such a scenario.

In essence, the Big Ten title chase is still convoluted for everyone but Iowa as long as the Hawkeyes can play as well as they have for most of the season. The schedule includes home games against Wisconsin and Indiana along with road trips to Ohio State and Michigan.

''The next four games are really all against very good teams. So hopefully we'll play well, play a little better than we have recently. We're close,'' Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.

After losing a close game to Indiana on the road, the Hawkeyes barely held off Minnesota at home and most recently lost at Penn State, which is just 5-9 in the league. Last Wednesday's 79-75 loss to the Nittany Lions prompted a players-only meeting on Saturday, which the Hawkeyes said was mostly positive.

McCaffery pointed to Iowa's recent defensive performances - which have been as good as they've been in years for much of the year - as an area in need of immediate improvement. The Hawkeyes allowed nearly 10 points more per game than their season average (69.3) in their last three outings.

''Our defense has to get better, especially with the weapons that we're going to face on Wednesday,'' McCaffery said. ''When I say we need to get better at defense, it will never be one thing ... It's not `OK, we're not doing one thing.' Our defense hasn't been awful, but it hasn't been as good as it needs to be.''

Stars Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok could also use a bit more help on offense.

Uthoff (18.8 points per game) and Jok (16.3) have been two of the league's best scorers this season. But the two combined to take a staggering 62 shots in Iowa's last two games, and both shot below 50 percent in the loss to Penn State.

''Sometimes we rely on them a little bit too much, leave them in one-on-one situations, put them in tough situations,'' said center Adam Woodbury, who took just two shots at Penn State.

A return to form could easily lead to an unexpected and rare Big Ten title for the Hawkeyes, who remain confident they can do so.

''We expect to win. That's how you approach every season," Uthoff said. "We expect to win the Big Ten championship. We expect to win the national championship. We're anxious to go out there and compete for it.''

Wisconsin is all but out of the Big Ten chase but is among the conference's hottest teams, having won eight of nine.

A big reason for the surge is Ethan Happ.

The 6-foot-9 forward is getting used to jostling for position in the paint against other Big Ten big men. As a redshirt last year, the freshman practiced against consensus player of the year Frank Kaminsky.

Those lessons are paying off now for the Badgers.

Happ is leading scorer Nigel Hayes' running mate in the frontcourt. He can post up to the bucket with either hand.

And, perhaps most impressively, Happ is the Big Ten leader in steals, averaging 2.5 per conference game and 1.8 overall.

''The biggest thing is growing up, I always played point guard and kind of read the scene that way,'' Happ said about his defensive mentality following a 69-60 win over Illinois on Sunday. ''Once I shot up, it's been a lot easier to get around bigger guys.''

Iowa provides the next big test for Happ, whose play has been instrumental in helping the Badgers climb back into the NCAA Tournament conversation.

''He's really good in the low post. His length defensively has helped them, so he's a solid rebounder at both ends,'' McCaffrey said. ''He's got really good instincts.''

Happ's six steals Sunday were the most by a Badgers player since Joe Krabbenhoft had six against Ohio State in 2009. Happ also had his third 20-point game in conference play and grabbed 12 rebounds for his eighth double-double.

Some of the same skills that allow Happ to contribute on the offensive end, which include good footwork and a feel around the bucket to play off bodies, also help on the other end of the court.

Interim coach Greg Gard said Happ can counter post players and ''feel which way weight is being shifted and kind of counter that a little bit.''

Hayes had 17 points Sunday after scoring a season-low five on 1-of-13 shooting in Thursday's loss to then-No. 8 Michigan State.

Wisconsin is 4-4 against ranked foes, including 2-2 on the road. The Badgers' current five-game winning streak over the Hawkeyes includes three victories over ranked Iowa teams.


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