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Wisconsin Badgers Basketball Preview: Iowa edition

The Basics:

When: Thursday, March 2; 8pm CT
Where: Madison, Wis.; Kohl Center (17,287)
Channel: ESPN
Spread: Wisconsin -11.5
All-Time Series: UW leads, 83-79
Last Meeting: UW won, 67-59, on Feb. 24, 2016 (in Iowa City, Iowa)

The scoreboard hasn’t been kind to the Wisconsin Badgers as of late, but with two games left to play there is still hope of a Big Ten title. Can the senior-laden team put things back together in time to make Purdue sweat for the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament?

A win on Thursday night against Iowa would make this a two-team race at the top of the standings. But, that requires the Badgers to escape a free-fall that has seen them drop four of the last five games.

It should be noted that the lone win was over Maryland inside the Kohl Center. After dropping the last two games on the road, perhaps the home confines are exactly what the Badgers need.

The Lineups:

Iowa Hawkeyes (16-13, 8-8 B1G)

G Jordan Bohannon — Fr. 6-0,182 (9.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 4.5 apg)
G Isaiah Moss — Sr. 6-5, 205 (6.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.8 apg)
G Peter Jok — Sr. 6-6, 205 (20.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.7 apg)
F Ahmad Wagner — So. 6-7, 235 (5.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.4 apg)
F Tyler Cook — Fr. 6-9, 253 (12.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.0 apg)

No. 22 Wisconsin Badgers (22-7, 11-5 B1G)

G Bronson Koenig — Sr. 6-3, 190 (13.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.1 apg)
G Zak Showalter — Sr. 6-3, 185 (7.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.7 apg)
F Nigel Hayes Sr. 6-8, 240 (13.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.9 apg)
F Vitto Brown Sr. 6-8, 235 (7.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.9 apg)
C Ethan Happ — So. 6-10, 280 (14.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.9 apg)

Matchup to Watch: Tyler Cook vs. Ethan Happ

Ethan Happ has been very quiet over the past few games, scoring 12 total points in UW’s road trip to Ohio State and Michigan State this past week. That’s not good news for a team that really needs him to be scoring in bunches.

However, things won’t get much easier down low for Happ in this contest. Everyone knows that Peter Jok is going to score points. Stopping Iowa’s secondary option down low is the key here. That’s where Happ’s performance as one of the most overall efficient players in the country comes in handy.

In fact, there may not be a better one-on-one matchup of underclassmen big men than what we will see on Thursday night at the Kohl Center. Happ needs to stay out of foul trouble, get Cook to overcommit when he is on the block and become the rebounding nightmare he has been all season long.

With the Hawkeyes likely to try to bomb away from deep, Happ’s defensive positioning is going to be key. So will his ability to finally take over down low on the offensive end after two horrific games in a row.

Could it be as simple as Happ goes, so go the Badgers?

3 Numbers to Know

— 14-1: That is Wisconsin’s record at the Kohl Center this season. UW is also 20 of its last 21 overall at home. The lone loss came in a 66-59 defeat at the hands of Northwestern, while the Badgers have won by an average of 15.0 points per game in conference play this season.

— 33.9: That is Ethan Happ’s Player Efficiency Rating this season. It is the third-best P.E.R., which is a measure that ESPN has created to better put numbers to player impact. It includes scoring, rebounds, assists and turnovers. Wake Forest’s John Collins leads the country at 36.81.

— 6: That is the number of games in Wisconsin’s current win streak against Iowa. After the Hawkeyes gave UW trouble earlier this century, the Badgers have turned the tables in the series. UW has won by an average of 10.0 points per game in the six-game win streak, but four of the six wins have been by single digits. UW’s average is helped out by a 32-point victory over Iowa back in January of 2015.

Prediction

Figuring out this team has been an exercise in frustration throughout the month of February. However, a new month could mean a renewed sense of purpose and importance for the Badgers.

While the Hawkeyes have been wildly inconsistent this season, they certainly are dangerous. See Jordan Bohannon going off for eight made three-pointers in a win over Maryland. Also see Iowa dropping both double-overtime games in league play.

This one simply comes down to form at the Kohl Center for me. Wisconsin has loved playing in the building basically since it was put up, while Iowa has a horrific 2-7 record in true road games all season. Iowa’s lone wins are at Rutgers and Maryland, so you really can’t be sure of what to make of this team.

In the end, I expect the big man matchup to favor Wisconsin and Iowa’s sharp-shooting from beyond the arc to cool off significantly. Wisconsin gets a much-needed confidence booster in this win.

Wisconsin 68, Iowa 58

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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