IOWA (21-8, 10-8) VS. WISCONSIN (20-9, 12-6)
It has been more than three months since Iowa last saw the Wisconsin Badgers, and not a lot has changed. Ethan Happ remains the Kenpom choice for National Player of the Year and wholly dominates Wisconsin's entire philosophy on both ends of the court. Buzzcut Brad Davison has taken his Less Ethical Aaron Craft routine to new and dangerous levels:
— Andy Habhegger (@Habby831) February 7, 2019
The Badgers are still positioned just behind the upper echelon of the Big Ten, paired with Maryland in the second tier and looking for a potential double-bye at the Big Tens next weekend.
Lost in all of that consistency -- and in a lofty No. 12 Kenpom rating -- is that the Badgers really haven't played that well lately. They are 3-3 over their last six games, took an L last week at Indiana in one of the most excruciating basketball games ever contested, and squeaked by the likes of Penn State, Northwestern, Illinois and Minnesota in the last few weeks, none by more than six points. Wisconsin hasn't led at the half and gone onto win since February 6. It's a sign of their experience and tenacity that they managed to win four of seven since that date.
Not much has changed for Iowa, either. The offense is mired in yet another February slump that has only exacerbated the Hawkeyes' defensive failures. Teams have clearly figured out that pulling Luka Garza away from the rim leads to layups and open shots, which is how Ohio State can post 1.28 points per possession on Iowa last week and follow it with 0.81 and 0.79 against Purdue and Northwestern. Or how Rutgers can go for 1.19 at Iowa, then 0.94 at home against Penn State four days later. Iowa, too, has played some fairly crappy basketball in recent weeks, and has also managed to go 4-3 over that stretch.
Back in 2014, Iowa's February implosion started with a loss to Wisconsin. In 2016, the Wisconsin loss came two games into the slump. Thursday night, the Badgers get yet another chance to pile onto Iowa's late-season misery. We can run through all the numbers and crunch the data, but at this point it doesn't much matter. Neither of these teams is playing at its full capacity, and the first one to get back to normal Thursday night probably wins.