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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Badgers try to bounce back, again, versus No. 11 Iowa

The No. 21 Badgers (15-7 overall, 9-6 Big Ten) will look to continue their streak of wins coming off of losses as they host No. 11 Iowa (15-6 overall, 9-5 Big Ten) and Wooden Award frontrunner Luka Garza on Thursday evening. 

The Badgers return to the court after a disappointing and unforgivable loss against No. 4 Michigan, a team that was coming off of a 23 day long pause due to high rates of the COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant in Ann Arbor. The Badgers had a 12-point lead at halftime but were outscored 40-20 in the second half en route to a 67-59 loss. 

The story of that game was the statlines put up by senior forward Nate Reuvers and redshirt senior forward Micah Potter. They played 40 combined minutes and yet, despite both standing over 6 foot 10, grabbed zero rebounds. 

In all of college basketball, there were 522 games in which a center (counting Nate Reuvers as a center in Wisconsin’s lineup since sophomore Tyler Wahl replaced him as the starting power forward) notched 15+ minutes and had zero rebounds, according to sports-reference.com’s database that goes back to the 2010-11 season. Not once had two of those performances happened in the same game, let alone the same team, until the Badgers’ bigs did it this Valentine’s Day.

Losing such a winnable game stings even more considering four of the Badgers’ final five games are against ranked opponents. The Badgers will have to rematch against an Illinois team that dominated them in the first match, must face Matt Painter’s Purdue squad in West Lafayette, In., and will take on the best player in college basketball not once, but twice as they face the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Though there aren’t many bright spots to glean from the Badgers’ recent performances, they’ve done a remarkable job bouncing back from losses. Greg Gard’s Badgers haven’t lost two straight games all season long, and they’re fortunate enough to host Iowa at the Kohl Center rather than taking a road trip to Iowa City. Perhaps this is why sportsbooks have the Badgers as a 2-point favorite (as of writing this). 

The Hawkeyes are the No. 11 team in the nation for good reason, and it isn’t just because of Luka Garza. Yes, the 6 foot 11 Washington, D.C. native is averaging just under 25 points per game on 56% shooting from the field and 43% from beyond the arc. Yes, he also leads the team in rebounding and blocks and gets to the line more than anyone else on his team. But to solely focus on Garza would be walking straight into a trap.

The Hawkeyes boast a number of dead-eye shooters from deep. Redshirt senior Jordan Bohannon puts the “shooting” in “shooting guard” as the University of Iowa’s all-time leader in three-pointers made. Bohannon has made the transition into a veteran leader on the offense as well, leading the team in total assists this season. Junior forward Joe Wieskamp stretches the floor for the Hawkeyes, shooting just under 50% from deep for 15 points per game. And Iowa hasn’t lost a single game with C.J. Frederick, who shoots 49% from deep and has a 4:1 assist/turnover ratio. 

Frederick has been dealing with a lingering lower-leg injury and has been a game-time decision the last few games. Iowa’s most recent scheduled game against Nebraska was postponed due to COVID-19 in the Nebraska program, which may have given Frederick more time to rehab and prepare for tonight’s game. His status as of this article’s publication is unknown. 

Bohannon made headlines this past week as he prepared for his final visit to the Kohl Center by saying it would have taken “$20,000 in a McDonald’s bag” for him to play for the Badgers, a reference to Jeremy Pruitt’s Tennessee football program allegedly giving players cash in McDonald’s bags as under-the-table payment. Bohannon hasn’t been shy to shoot back at any Badger fans on Twitter, either.

The Badgers remained at No. 21 in the AP Poll after their loss to the Wolverines, implying that their position as a 5 or 6-seed is safe, for now. Of course, that could be subject to change with a few more painful losses like the one against Michigan.

The Badgers will seek redemption at 6 p.m. CST on ESPN.

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