IOWA (6-0) VS. WISCONSIN (6-1)
These early Big Ten games will never not be weird.
Six games into the 2018-19 campaign, Iowa officially kicks off its conference slate Friday night at home against the hated Wisconsin Badgers. After last year's disastrous 15-18 season, it looks like Greg Gard has things turned back around in Madison, making this as must-see as Iowa-Wisconsin hoops has been since the days of Bo Ryan.
Wisconsin, of course, is the Ethan Happ Show again. Happ, a 6'10" senior center, is currently the Kenpom National Player of the Year leader, and he does it all: He's ninth nationally in possession usage, eighth in defensive rebounding percentage, eleventh in assist rate. He takes shots (basically a third of Wisconsin's shots when he's on the court), he makes shots (18 points per game), he blocks shots (6.8% block rate), he draws fouls (5.6 per 40 minutes, which is better than anyone on Iowa except Tyler Cook). He minces, slices, dices. He is everything and nothing all at once.
Happ gets some help from sophomore D'Mitrik Trice (6'0", 187), who is pouring in 17 points per game from the perimeter. Trice is shooting an even 60 percent from behind the three-point arc, translating to more than three made three-point shots per contest and one of the best offensive efficiency ratings that Iowa will see all year. The only other real mainstay of the Badgers' rotation is Buzz Cut Brad Davison, who got some national notoriety earlier this week following a game against N.C. State where he drew five charges.
Bomani reacts to Brad Davison taking 5 charges in Wisconsins win over NC State— HIGH NOON (@HIGHNOONonESPN) November 28, 2018
Have some self-respectview yourself as an actual real live basketball player pic.twitter.com/o04BkIlD0P
A rotation of guard/forward types fills most of the remaining minutes. Senior Khalil Iverson (6'5", 217, 5.0 ppg) is second to only Happ in rebounds (5.7 rpg). Junior guard Brevin Pritzl (6'3", 198) and freshman Kobe King (6'4", 203) soak up some backcourt minutes, while Nate Reuvers (6'11", 240) gives Happ some help under the basket.
Iowa-Wisconsin is always a game of contrasts, and that doesn't change this year. The Badgers are their usual turtle-slow selves, ranking ahead of only Virginia in pace of play among Power Six teams. Fran McCaffery's defensive strategy has always relied on making opponents work hard through long possessions. Wisconsin has no problem doing just that. Virginia beat the Badgers by lulling them into a 58-possession coma and obliterating them with efficiency. That's not really Iowa's jam, though.
The more interesting question is whether Tyler Cook can continue his Evolutional James Harden thing against Wisconsin in general, and Happ in particular. The Badgers have been one of the least foul-prone teams in the nation so far. If Iowa can turn that and get the Wisconsin front line in foul trouble, the route to victory looks a lot like it did against Oregon and its do-it-all big man. If Wisconsin doesn't give Iowa points at the line, though, the Hawkeyes have struggled to find them elsewhere. Asking a team that made seven two-point shots on Tuesday night to grind out mid-range baskets and finish at the rim is probably too much, especially when the opponent is simply more efficient elsewhere.