The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team (15-7, 9-6 Big Ten) is set to take on the No. 11 University of Iowa Hawkeyes (15-6, 9-5 Big Ten) Thursday night at the Kohl Center for the first of two matchups in their final five games.
The Hawkeyes are riding a two-game winning streak featuring double-digit victories against both Michigan State and No. 25 Rutgers.
Wisconsin will be looking to bounce back from their loss against Michigan on Sunday. Wisconsin also picked up a victory against Nebraska last week, keeping them idle at No. 21 in the AP Poll.
The biggest cause for concern heading into Thursday’s matchup is the Badgers’ ability to control the paint. Both Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter of the Badgers have struggled defending, scoring and rebounding against the likes of Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn and Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson — two of the league’s best centers.
Wooden Award favorite and Iowa Center Luka Garza will undoubtedly be the toughest challenge the two Badgers centers have faced all season. In their last game out, Reuvers and Potter combined for zero rebounds, a stat that will need to change if the Badgers want to control Garza down low.
Garza leads his team with 24.5 points per game while shooting the ball 56.2% from the floor. He also leads his team on the glass, collecting 8.4 rebounds per game. On the defensive side of the ball, the big man plays the role of rim protector, leading his team with 1.6 blocks per game.
Since Iowa is likely to dominate inside the paint, it will be interesting to see how the Badgers counter the excellent post play of Garza.
Wisconsin’s ability to shoot 3-pointers will determine a lot in this matchup. With the Iowa big man congesting the lane, look for the Badgers to try and distribute the ball around the 3-point line for scoring.
The Badgers converted five of seven 3-pointers in the first half (71.43%) of their last game against Michigan which resulted in a 12-point halftime lead. Wisconsin came out in the second half and shot just 1-for-12 from distance, and ultimately lost the game by eight points.
When Wisconsin is shooting the ball efficient from distance, good things tend to happen for the Badgers.
Wisconsin has dropped their previous four games against ranked opponents. The Badgers are currently 3-5 against Quad One teams.
Iowa has had struggles of their own against some of the best in college basketball. Iowa is just 4-5 against Quad One teams.
The game between Wisconsin and Iowa will be a battle to stay alive in the conference race.
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With just five games remaining, the standings reflect Illinois (11-3 Big Ten) and Michigan (9-1 Big Ten) in a dead-lock tie for first place. The Buckeyes of Ohio State (11-4 Big Ten) are sitting just a half game back behind them.
Looking past the top three teams, three other teams remain in the hunt. The Iowa Hawkeyes (9-5 Big Ten 2 games back) who sit in fourth place. The Wisconsin Badgers (9-6 Big Ten 2.5 games back) and Purdue Boilermakers (9-6 Big Ten 2.5 games back) both tied for fifth place.
The winner between Wisconsin and Iowa will stay within striking distance of a conference championship. The loser will drop another game back with only four games left to play. Mounting that type of comeback seems virtually impossible given the competitiveness of this conference.
Tip-off from the Kohl Center is set for 6 p.m. airing on ESPN3.