When the Badgers and the Iowa Hawkeyes come together Saturday for the second time in 11 days, fans of both teams should expect a closer game than their Jan. 20 tussle at the Kohl Center.
Before their first meeting, Iowa was off to a blistering start in Big Ten play, sitting comfortably at 4-1 with a pair of wins over Ohio State and a hard-fought win over Minnesota at “The Barn” while the Badgers were still reeling from the loss of Traevon Jackson.
Fast forward to this upcoming Saturday and we see a drastically different picture painted. The Hawkeyes (4-3 Big Ten, 13-7 overall) have lost two in a row, including a 32-point beatdown at the hands of the Badgers and an excruciating four-point loss to Purdue at Mackey Arena.
For the Badgers (6-1, 18-2), the infusion of sophomoreBronson Koenig running the show at point guard has been a jolt of energy into a team that badly needed one. Koenig has dished out seven assists against just two turnovers since being installed as the starting point guard while averaging 37 minutes per game.
What may be even more important for the Badgers is that Koenig has found his three-point touch once again. Coming off the bench, Koenig was shooting just 12-40 from three, just 30 percent. Since becoming a starter four games ago, Koenig is 10-19 from three, a blistering 52.6 percent.
For the Hawkeyes, their biggest concern is whether Aaron White plays. White suffered a shoulder stinger against Purdue. White’s status was updated to day-to-day, according to the team’s official Twitter feed Wednesday morning.
White is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder at 15.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Without him, the Hawkeyes lose a key piece of senior leadership they’ve come to rely on for all four years he’s been on campus.
In his absence, Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff will need to step up. With White sidelined for much of the team’s game against Purdue, Uthoff struggled badly, shooting 2-14 from the field and missing all five of his 3-point attempts.
If White can’t play, Fran McCaffery, head coach of the Hawkeyes, will have two routes to go down to replace him in the lineup. He could replace White with Gabriel Olaseni, who in just 23 minutes collected 16 rebounds against the Boilermakers. However, Olaseni looked exhausted from the additional minutes.
McCaffery could also go smaller and start some combination of Peter Jok, Anthony Clemmons or Josh Ogelsby. Both Jok and Clemmons have started games this season, but Ogelsby, a senior, could provide the veteran leadership needed if the team’s best player and unquestioned leader can’t play.
The two teams are set to tip off at 11 a.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Saturday. The last time they faced off in Iowa City, the Badgers won a hard fought game, edging out the Hawkeyes 79-74. Expect a score closer to this than last week’s 82-50 drubbing, as the three previous matchups were decided by an average of 4.3 points.