As it turns out, the Wisconsin-Iowa sporting rivalry — including both football and basketball — is completely even. In 86 football contests, the record stands at 42-42-2; in 144 basketball contests, the record stands at 77-77. Fascinating.
So maybe that explains the Hawkeyes unfathomable 72-65 victory at the Kohl Center earlier this season. It was Murphy’s Game for the Badgers — everything that could go wrong, did. The Badgers missed 25 of 28 three-pointers. Two Iowa bench players scored in double figures while shooting over 50%. The entire Hawkeye team shot just under 50% on the Kohl Center court. Iowa corralled 11 offensive and 40 total rebounds. It was, to be sure, less than a typical Badger performance.
If it weren’t for the Badgers somehow pulling out a 50-45 win despite shooting just 15-for-48 January 15th against Nebraska, the Iowa loss would have contention for the blackest mark and the most embarrassing of Wisconsin’s shooting woes this season. But the Badgers’ struggles against Iowa — which included a staggering 3-for-28 mark on three-pointers — will go down as the season’s ugliest loss regardless of what happens Thursday in Iowa City. Given the precedent set at the Kohl Center, it was an unacceptable performance. The Hawkeyes are one of the worst teams in the league at defending the shot from the field, whether it comes from two (50.1%) or three (35%).
And to make matters worse, the Hawkeyes couldn’t miss. Specifically, Bryce Cartwright (7-for-12) and Aaron White (6-for-7) came out of nowhere to make a huge impact off the bench. Behind those efforts as well as a solid game from Melsahn Basabe (6-for-11), Iowa sunk 27-of-53 two-point shots against a Wisconsin team that has held opponents to just 40.8% from inside the arc this season. Only Kentucky, Connecticut, Kansas and Louisville boast higher marks; only Michigan State has been superior in conference play.
Yet despite the horrific nature of the Badgers’ play back on December 28th — a time when Madison was concerned more with Pasadena than Big Ten basketball — the Badgers were competitive until the final minute and fell by just seven points. It is an unacceptable loss, to be sure, but should the Badgers fear the Hawkeyes? Iowa has been far superior in conference play than they were in the non-conference season (when they fell to teams like Campbell and Northern Iowa) and are now coming off a defeat of Indiana. However, if the Badgers can fix just one of their problem areas from the first meeting — defending the two-point shot or hitting the three-point version — the result should be a victory.
Things have rarely come easily for the Badgers this year, and things rarely come easily on the road in the Big Ten. It will be no different Thursday night as the Badgers look to tip the scales of the Wisconsin-Iowa rivalry in their favor, if only for a few months.