The Wisconsin Badger basketball team has a big test coming in the Kohl Center this weekend, when the Iowa Hawkeyes will make the trip to Madison for Wisconsin's first Big Ten home game of the season. The Badgers are currently on a 14-game winning streak, but the Hawkeyes have had Wisconsin's number over the last few seasons.
It very well could be that the Hawkeyes end Wisconsin's winning streak, so I asked Tom Kakert of HawkeyeReport.com a few questions about Fran McCaffery's team. Tom gives his prediction for Sunday's game at the end of our question and answer session, and you can follow him on Twitter at @HawkeyeReport.
First of all, what do we know about the Iowa Hawkeyes through 14 games? How much progress have the Hawkeyes made from last season?
Tom Kakert: Iowa's team is better than last season's squad and they are certainly deeper than last year with the addition of Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok. Also, Iowa just got back Josh Oglesby, who has been sidelined all season with a broken foot. The depth and level of talent is much improved under Fran McCaffery and I think Iowa might be the deepest team in the Big Ten in terms of talent on the roster. McCaffery goes 11 deep and frankly a lot of the guys who are on the second team would have started a couple of years ago. Last year Iowa missed out on the NCAA Tournament and made it to the finals of the NIT. This season they have the look of a team that can be in the mix for the upper half of the Big Ten and they sure seem to be likely to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
The first thing I notice when looking at Iowa's roster is their depth, which is something you really need to have to compete in the Big Ten. Where are the Hawkeyes the deepest, and where could they use a little more help?
TK: The depth is really impressive and Fran McCaffery can run a number of different lineups out on the floor at different points in the game. Usually he goes with the starters for 5-8 minutes and then he starts subbing in the 2nd unit. They go for about five minutes and then it's mix and match time for McCaffery each half. Honestly, they are deep at just about every position with Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni, he has two bigs he can rotate in and out with throughout the game. At the forward spots, McCaffery will rotate Aaron White, Uthoff, Melsahn Basabe, and Zach McCabe. In the backcourt, Mike Gesell and Devyn Marble start and Anthony Clemmons, Oglesby, and Jok rotate in. Iowa is probably deepest at guard with Oglesby back in the mix and they have three guys who can play point. Forward is also very deep with several combinations that have worked very well. Not sure there are any spots where they could use more help.
What do you think Iowa's biggest strength is this season? What does this team look like when they're playing their best basketball?
TK: The biggest strength is probably that they are so versatile with their lineups. They can go very big or they can potentially move Marble to the three and go smaller with Basabe, White, or even Uthoff playing the five spot. We have joked this year that Iowa is almost like a hockey team with various lines that come off the bench. Iowa is at their best when they are getting out in transition and pushing the basketball. Marble has been very good all season and he and White are really the guys that make Iowa go. When those two are scoring, Iowa is very tough to beat. Marble has put the team on his back at times this year and White had 25 and 17 against Iowa State in Ames. If Iowa is hitting from the outside, rebounding, and running, they can put up a lot of points in a short amount of time.
On the flip side, when things go wrong for the Hawkeyes what would you say is usually the cause?
TK: I think the concerns are probably outside shooting and free throw shooting has become a concern. Iowa has shot better from three this year thanks in large part of McCabe and Uthoff doing well from beyond the arch. But, the Iowa guards (Marble and Gesell) are pretty streaky from the outside. Marble can have games where he hits five three's in a half and then other nights where he struggles. Gesell is pretty similar in that regard. The foul line has become a growing concern for Iowa, particularly late in game. Iowa missed 17 free throws the other night against Nebraska. They are shooting 72% on the season, but late game situations is where the Hawkeyes have struggled. Marble and Gesell missed three key free throws late in the loss to Iowa State last month.
Finally, what do the Hawkeyes need to do to beat the Badgers on the road this weekend? They've obviously had some success in the Kohl Center in the past, but do you think Iowa will snap Wisconsin's winning streak?
TK: For some reason, Fran McCaffery seems to have Bo Ryan's number. Since his arrival in the Big Ten, McCaffery is 3-2 against Wisconsin in the regular season and 1-1 at the Kohl Center. The loss last year was in overtime, so Iowa has been right there when they play in Madison. Fran McCaffery was asked about his success against Bo Ryan and he said he can't really explain it and there isn't some sort of magic formula that he has figured out, but I think Iowa gets Wisconsin to play a little faster than they generally do and that has helped in Madison. Having said all that, Iowa will have their hands full on Sunday when they play the Badgers. Wisconsin's team seems to be playing at a very high level and the return of Josh Gasser and the development of Sam Dekker has made the Badgers a better offensive team and their guards rebound so well that teams don't get a ton of second chances. I think Iowa can win on the road, but right now it will take a much better game than Iowa has played in the past few weeks to do it and until the Hawkeyes show that they can finish a game on the road, I think Wisconsin will win a close game.
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