When the Wisconsin men’s basketball team heads into Indianapolis Friday, a few things are certain: The Badgers will be going in with the top seed while riding a six-game winning streak, and they will be on nine days’ rest. One thing that is not certain, though, is whom they will be playing.
Since UW garnered the No. 1 seed, it will not have to play in the first round Thursday, but it will open up in quarterfinal action Friday against the winner of the game between No. 8 Purdue and No. 9 Iowa.
The Badgers split the season series with Iowa, a team that was expected to vie for the conference title. The Hawkeyes failed to live up to their preseason potential and ended with a 5-11 Big Ten record while going 16-14 overall. The reigning Big Ten tournament champions are losers of eight of their last ten, but proved last year that everything that happened in the regular season will not matter come tournament time. Iowa finished 7-9 last year, entered the tournament with the sixth seed and exited as champions after winning four games in a three-day span to guarantee a berth in the NCAA tournament. However, while many of the same players are still in uniform for Iowa, this team is not the same as last year’s.
Still leading the way for Iowa are seniors Luke Recker and Reggie Evans. The two lead the team in scoring with 16.6 and 16.1 points per game, respectively. They are the only two players who have averaged double-digits in scoring, with their next closest teammate being Glen Worley (chipping in with 7.5 points per game). Defensively, Evans is the only conference player to average double figures in rebounding, with 11.2 boards per game.
Iowa defeated Wisconsin 69-57 in both teams’ conference-opener back in January in Iowa City. The Badgers got the victory the second time around, though, when they soundly handled Iowa 64-56 at the Kohl Center.
In order for the Hawkeyes to have a chance to play the Badgers, they will have to get past Purdue first. The Boilermakers (5-11, 12-18) tied for eighth place in the conference with Iowa and Michigan. They are losers of three of their last four, but they ended on a winning note when they defeated last place Penn State 92-57.
Leading the charge for Purdue is second-team all-Big Ten guard Willie Deane. The junior led the conference in scoring with 17.3 points per game. The only player for Purdue to play and start every game has been senior forward John Allison. Allison leads the team in rebounding with 5.8 rebounds a game in his 25.7 minutes of action.
The Boilermakers won their only contest against Iowa 73-68 back in January when the Hawkeyes were ranked No. 24 in the nation. On the other hand, Purdue lost its only game against Wisconsin 77-66 in mid-January.
No matter who the Badgers face off against, their game plan will focus around Big Ten coach of the year Bo Ryan’s swing offense. UW adjusted to the new style of play well enough to have it balancing out the offense as the season went on.
The go-to guy for Wisconsin has been junior guard Kirk Penney. Penney, recently named first team all-Big Ten, is averaging 15.0 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Manning the other off-guard slot is true freshman Devin Harris, who is second on the team with 12.4 points and leads the team in steals with 36 overall.
Forward Mike Wilkinson has been another freshman leader. His 5.7 rebounds per game are tops on the team, and he has scored 9.6 points per game. Wilkinson has provided key depth behind starting forward Dave Mader, who has been prone to foul trouble early on. Both Wilkinson and Mader, along with senior Charlie Wills, will have their work cut out for them, whether they square off with Evans of Iowa or Allison of Purdue. The match-ups in the post will be pivotal in deciding the play of the guards. If the lane is even slightly open, Wisconsin players have shown they will drive, whether it is Penney, Harris or Travon Davis. The Badgers have also not been afraid to shoot the long ball, as they have connected on 190 of their 545 three-point attempts.
Statistically, Wisconsin is eighth in scoring offense compared to Iowa (third) and Purdue (fifth). Defensively, the Badgers are fifth in scoring defense while Iowa (seventh) and Purdue (ninth) lag behind. If Wisconsin wins Friday, it will play the winner of the Indiana-Michigan State game.