Iowa hosts Wisconsin in meeting of slumping programs

Hawkeyes, Badgers have experienced struggles this winter

Iowa’s Cordell Pemsl tries to drive past Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ during last March’s Iowa-Wisconsin game at Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. (USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa’s Cordell Pemsl tries to drive past Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ during last March’s Iowa-Wisconsin game at Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. (USA TODAY Sports)

IOWA CITY — If the current men’s basketball declines of Iowa and Wisconsin have any significant difference, it’s that the Badgers have fallen further.

If the expression about misery loving company rings true, the Hawkeyes will embrace the Badgers when they meet Tuesday night at 6 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena (ESPN2).

Wisconsin is 10-10 overall, 3-4 in the Big Ten. Iowa is 10-11, 1-7. Those aren’t numbers you normally would associate with either program at this point in the season.

The Hawkeyes were 34-20 in the conference over the previous three years and haven’t had a losing league record since the second of Fran McCaffery’s eight seasons as Iowa’s coach, 2011-12. But Iowa’s drop is just a slip compared to what Wisconsin has experienced so far this winter.

The Badgers have finished in the Big Ten’s first division every year since 2000, and have been to the NCAA tournament each season since 1999. Between 2001 (Bo Ryan’s first year as UW’s head coach) and the end of last season (Greg Gard’s second as Ryan’s replacement), Wisconsin was 196-74 in Big Ten games.

The Badgers went to NCAA Sweet Sixteens in 2016 and 2017 with Gard at the helm. They got at least that deep in the tournament seven times under Ryan, including two Final Fours and the 2015 national title game. Ryan coached four Big Ten regular-season champions.

Inexperience is at the heart of Wisconsin’s problems. Four of last year’s starters were seniors. Forward Nigel Hayes recently joined the Los Angeles Lakers, and guard Bronson Koenig is in the NBA G-League. Koenig was named second-team All-Big Ten by the league’s coaches and third-team by the media. Hayes was third-team on both honor squads.


But Wisconsin does still have a consensus first-team All-Big Ten player from last year in 6-foot-10 junior Ethan Happ. He averages 16.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, and a team-high 3.7 assists. He sometimes brings the ball downcourt when freshman starting point guard Brad Davison leaves games.

The Badgers’ lack of seasoning has shown, as have the effects of in-season injuries to guards D’Mitrik Trice (foot surgery, recently returned to practice) and Kobe King (out for the rest of the season with a knee injury).

Wisconsin is 12th in turnover margin in Big Ten games, an unthinkable spot for that ball-protective program over the last two decades. Iowa is 14th.

Wisconsin is fresh off a 75-50 home win over last-place Illinois Saturday in Madison. It had dropped the three games before that, including a 78-50 loss at third-ranked Purdue a week ago.

So, Wisconsin is truly scuffling for the first time this millennium. But the Hawkeyes have no pity to spare after a week that saw them lose 80-64 at Rutgers and 87-64 at home against Purdue.

Finding bright spots for the Hawkeyes has been hard in 2018, but the recent play of freshman center Luka Garza certainly has stood out. Garza is averaging 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds overall, 15.3 and 7.3 over the last three games.

If there is a good streak Iowa can claim right now, it’s this: It won the last time it played the Badgers, a 59-57 decision in Madison last March. Jordan Bohannon, who has two brothers who played for Wisconsin, made a 3-pointer with 9.7 seconds left for the game-winning points.

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