After suffering a 51-69 loss at the hands of Northwestern Saturday, the No. 14-ranked UW men’s basketball team (15-4, 6-2) will look to get back on track when they travel to Carver-Hawkeye Arena tonight for their conference showdown with the Iowa Hawkeyes (12-8, 5-4).
The Hawkeyes, led by one of the most balanced lineups in the conference, will enter their matchup with the Badgers fresh off one of the team’s biggest wins of the season — an 84-82 thriller they pulled away from Indiana Saturday after Jeff Horner hit a spinning layup with 1.6 seconds remaining in double overtime.
The game marked the first time head coach Steve Alford, who led the Hoosiers to the 1987 national championship, has been able to knock off Indiana since he took over at Iowa five years ago.
The Hawkeyes’ victory over the Hoosiers also served as Dugger, Ind.-native Brody Boyd’s final opportunity to pick up a win in his home state.
This season, Boyd has formed a formidable 1-2 backcourt punch with sophomore guard Pierre Pierce and has emerged as one of the Big Ten’s best defensive guards.
Through Iowa’s first 20 games this season, Boyd has swiped a team-high 44 steals and currently ranks as the Hawkeyes’ third-leading scorer at 10.8 points per game.
Over the course of his career, he has solidified himself as one of the conference’s best perimeter shooters, and this season he has connected on 36 of his 98 attempts from beyond the arc. His 172 career three-pointers rank third on Iowa’s all-time list, while his 483 attempts are second only to former Hawkeye standout Chris Kingsbury’s 645.
The team’s most dangerous scoring threats, however, have been underclassmen Pierre Pierce and Jeff Horner.
The sophomore tandem has shot the lights out as of late, and the UW backcourt will have their hands full trying to contain them tonight. They are both capable of knocking down the outside jumper, and Pierce is one of the Big Ten’s best slashing guards.
Horner and Pierce rank as the Hawkeyes’ top two scoring options, averaging 16.8 and 12.5 points per game, respectively.
Joining the pair in Iowa’s starting lineup and strong sophomore class is 6-foot-7, 240-pound forward Greg Brunner.
Brunner, a native of Charles City, Iowa, has averaged 10.3 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds in his second year of action.
His game closely resembles that of UW forward Zach Morley, as he’s not only able to exploit his height advantage over smaller defenders on the block, but also take larger players off the dribble on the perimeter.
Brunner’s offensive versatility was on display during Iowa’s victory over Indiana Saturday, as he netted a team-high 23 points and pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds.
Drawing the Brunner assignment defensively will likely be UW junior forward Mike Wilkinson. The Wisconsin post player is one of the conference’s most physical frontcourt players, which will make the two big men’s matchup one of the most intriguing features of the game.
Iowa, like Wisconsin, has been susceptible to the injury bug and experienced controversy this season.
Jared Reiner, one of the Hawkeyes’ most experienced and formidable frontcourt players, suffered a stress fracture to his right foot in January, and has consequently been inactive for about the past month.
To make matters worse in Coach Alford’s already-thin frontcourt, senior center Sean Sonderleiter quit the team shortly after Reiner went down.
And as a result, Greg Brunner and senior Glen Worley have been forced to play a large number of minutes in the Hawkeyes’ depth-deprived interior.
The loss of Reiner, Sonderleiter and academically ineligible underclassmen Nick DeWitz and Mike Henderson has left Iowa with just seven available scholarship players.
With the Badgers’ up-tempo style of play and the potential return of Boo Wade to action, the Hawkeyes’ lack of depth could be a factor in tonight’s game.
Following their matchup with Iowa, Wisconsin will return home to play Ohio State Saturday, before traveling to Illinois Wednesday to square off with the Fighting Illini.