KenPom expected a close game tonight (Wisconsin -1). Vegas also expected a close game (Wisconsin -3.5).
It was not a close game.
After a close opening stretch when both teams were trading baskets, Wisconsin spent the better part of the remaining 30 minutes of the game bludgeoning Iowa over and over and over (and…), before wrapping up a 87-78 win in at home. Even that final score is deceptive; this was not a 9-point game. Wisconsin used a 12-0 run midway through the first half to open up a 32-20 lead; that didn’t end the game as a competitive contest, but it did set the tone for the rest of the game. Iowa cut the lead to five at one point, but hovered around 9-12 points for the rest of the half and the Badgers entered halftime with a 45-32 lead. Any hope Iowa had of turning things around in the second half were pretty well dashed when Wisconsin made six of their first eight shots out of the break and used a 12-6 run to extend their lead to 19 points. The rest of the game was an exercise in going through the motions; the Badger lead stayed around 15-20 points until a late Iowa flurry.
Iowa lost the game for the same reasons they usually struggle: bad rebounding, bad defense, and ill-timed offensive blackouts. Wisconsin destroyed Iowa on the glass all night, finishing with a 43-26 advantage and a 15-6 edge in offensive rebounds. Remarkably, that only led to an 18-14 edge for Wisconsin second chance points, but still. You’re not going to win many games getting savaged on the glass like that. This Iowa team is probably never going to be a good rebounding team, but they can’t afford to get mauled on the glass like they were in this game.
Bad defense? Wisconsin scored 87 points and shot 50% from the floor. The depressing thing is that they had an offensive showing like that and they didn’t even shoot well from beyond the arc; they made just 29% (5/17) of their three-point attempts. They even missed seven free throws (16/23). Their offense trailed off a bit in the second half after they had opened a big lead and could coast to the finish line, but for the most part they got whatever shots they wanted, whenever they wanted them. And most of those shots were from wide open looks or easy efforts around the rim.
And offensive blackouts? Iowa had multiple 4+ minute stretches in the game (including at least one in each half) where they made no field goals. If teams can stop the Hawkeyes from getting into transition (as Wisconsin did for much of the first half and again early in the second half), Iowa’s offense becomes so much easier to defend. It frequently gets stymied in half-court sets, leading to a lot of poor (or non-existent) ball movement and ill-advised shots. That happened for prolonged stretches in this game.
Individually, this game featured two of the nation’s top scorers in Keegan Murray and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis. In the end, both guys got their points; Keegan finished with 27 points on 10/16 shooting (2/4 3FG), while Davis had 26 points on 10/18 shooting (3/7 3FG). But Davis was more effective when the game was still competitive; he had 19 points in the first half and helped Wisconsin build its big lead and turn the game into a rout; Keegan had just 10 points in the first half. Davis also finished with 9 rebounds and 5 assists, while Murray had 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, and a steal. Ultimately, both players pretty much lived up to the impressive standards they’ve established for themselves with their play this season.
Three other Iowa players finished in double figures, led by Kris Murray and Jordan Bohannon with 12 apiece. Murray had 12 points on 5/10 shooting and also had 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals; he was by far Iowa’s most effective player off the bench in this game. Bohannon had 12 point and went 3/6 from 3-point range, but all of those three-pointers came late in the game; he didn’t even attempt a shot for the first 20 minutes he was on the floor. He was also an extremely uncharacteristic 3/6 at the free throw line. Patrick McCaffery was the only other Iowa player in double figures, with 10 points on 4/10 shooting, along with a team-high 7 rebounds.
Winning on the road in the Big Ten is hard. Winning in the Kohl Center is really hard. But if Iowa continues to get dominated on the glass and continues to give out open looks on defense like edibles at a Phish concert, there will be a lot more games (and results) just like this. They’ve got a week off until their next Big Ten game; hopefully they can use that time to rest up, heal up (both Keegan Murray and Joe Toussaint exited the game at least briefly due to injury), and find some renewed emphasis on rebounding and defense.
Here’s one silver lining from tonight: at least Iowa never has to play against Brad Davison again.
NEXT: Iowa has a week off before hosting Indiana (11-3, 2-2 Big Ten) on Thursday, January 13 (8 PM CT, FS1).