Badgers prepare for high-intensity matchup with Hawkeyes
MADISON, Wis. — Members of Wisconsin’s playing rotation faced an interesting dilemma during practice Sunday night: the prospect of beating a full-court press against six players.
The task, while obviously illegal during an actual basketball game, was meant to simulate the pressure No. 6 Wisconsin (16-2, 4-1) will face when it plays No. 25 Iowa (13-5, 4-1) at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Kohl Center. And the game is shaping up to be an important one, with the winner pulling into a tie with Maryland for the top spot in the Big Ten.
On Sunday, Badgers coach Bo Ryan and assistant coach Gary Close — who ran the scout team preparations for Iowa — used six players to pressure in the backcourt before dropping one off to fall back into a regular half-court defense. Ryan noted it was done, in part, because scout team forward Ethan Happ was sidelined with a right ankle sprain, and he didn’t have enough reserves to simulate Iowa’s length.
"It’s something different," Badgers guard Zak Showalter said. "Sometimes you get in kind of your lull going through the same things every day. Getting six guys in there, it’s just a different look. Hopefully we’ll be ready to face that energy on Tuesday."
Iowa ranks only eighth in the Big Ten in possessions per game at 66.9, while Wisconsin ranks last among 14 teams at 61.7. But the speed at which Iowa plays is not what makes the Hawkeyes seem so frenetic. Instead, it’s the fact that Iowa has nine players that average at least 10 minutes a game. Wisconsin, meanwhile, has seven, but one of those players is injured point guard Traevon Jackson. Eight Iowa players average at least 17 minutes per game.
Given the method Iowa coach Fran McCaffery employs of continually rotating fresh bodies, Wisconsin players recognize they’ll have to be especially smart with the ball. This season, the Badgers lead the country in fewest turnovers per game (8.3), but that will surely be tested on Tuesday.
"They just keep going after you," Badgers forward Sam Dekker said. "If one guy gets tired, they bring in a new guy. They’re pretty deep. Coach McCaffery’s done a good job building a program that can have interchangeable parts and play multiple positions. That’s where they’re dangerous and show matchup problems because they’re always going to have new energy in there, fresh legs. So you’ve just got to match that."
During the team’s matchup at the Kohl Center a year ago, 10 different Iowa players played at least nine minutes, while Wisconsin had seven players do the same. And the Hawkeyes gave the Badgers fits for long stretches. Iowa actually led 35-24 at halftime before Wisconsin rallied for a 75-71 victory, which featured McCaffery being ejected after earning two second-half technical fouls. The Badgers also tallied more turnovers (12) than assists (11) — a true rarity in the Ryan era.
"Last year, I remember when they came here, they kind of punched us in the mouth right away and kind of ran on us, got some fast-break alley-oop dunks," said Badgers point guard Bronson Koenig, who will make his second start in place of Jackson and third start overall. "They really get up on you and pressure the ball. We’re just going to have to do a really good job of taking care of the ball and controlling the tempo."
This season, Iowa is led by senior forward Aaron White, who averages 16.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. White has taken 143 free throws, while no other Iowa player has taken more than 69. Meanwhile, Hawkeyes forward Jarrod Uthoff has become one of the other stars of the team. Uthoff, who transferred from Wisconsin after taking a redshirt year as a freshman in 2011-12, ranks second on the team in scoring (11.8 points per game) and is the only other player averaging in double figures.
Gabriel Olaseni (8.9 points), Adam Woodbury (7.1 points) Mike Gessell (7.0) and Peter Jok (6.2) are the Hawkeyes’ other primary scorers. Iowa, which returned eight of its top 11 scorers, is the lone unbeaten team in road Big Ten games this season.
"They’re long and they like to get after you a little bit," Dekker said. "They have a little press. I think we know how to handle that type of thing. We’re not going to try to get too sped up. Just play our game and be comfortable and just react in situations they present us. If we do that and not try to go 100 miles an hour, we’ll be all right."
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