Welcome to the most underrated rivalry in college sports: Iowa vs. Wisconsin. The 105-year-old basketball series is tied 79-79 entering today’s game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Over the last six meetings, the teams are split 3-3 with Iowa scoring 409 points and Wisconsin scoring 408. Throw in the football series (43-42-2 Wisconsin), and it’s easy to see why this rivalry matters to both fan groups.
But there’s more than just history between the two teams. Today’s winner (11 a.m. ESPN2) moves solidly into third place in the Big Ten standings. No. 15 Iowa (19-6, 8-4) is one game behind Michigan and Michigan State in the loss column. No. 18 Wisconsin (21-5, 8-5) already has beaten Iowa once. Today’s outcome affects seeding in the Big Ten Tournament and ultimately the NCAA tournament.
But for the teams it all boils down to beating another fierce rival. The other ramifications can wait.
“It’s a border game so you’ve got people you know from both states that like both teams and stuff like that,” Iowa guard Devyn Marble said. “I think that adds to it for the fans.”
“It’s Wisconsin. That’s our challenge right now,” Iowa’s Zach McCabe said. “They’re trying to get back in the race. We’ve just got to focus one game at a time. That’s what we’re all just focusing on right now.”
The teams boast contrasting styles, from Iowa’s uptempo transition attack to Wisconsin’s half-court, 3-point prowess. Iowa leads the Big Ten in scoring offense (83.6 points), scoring margin (16.4), defensive field-goal percentage (38.8 percent) and rebounding (43). Wisconsin ranks third in scoring defense (63.3), while is ninth (67.2) and the Badgers are third in free-throw percentage (74.4).
Wisconsin won its first 16 games but then limped through a stretch of five losses in six games. That included a 13-point loss at Minnesota, a seven-point home loss to Michigan and a nine-point home defeat to Northwestern — Wisconsin’s first-ever loss to the Wildcats at the Kohl Center.
But the Badgers have rallied, winning fourth straight. Two of the wins game against Big Ten co-leaders Michigan State and Michigan, the latter of which was at Ann Arbor.
“They have kind of picked up their tempo a little bit, but I think that just comes from they’ve got better players that can make plays and do stuff like that,” Marble said. “We want to get out in the open court. I think it’s going to be a really good game and I think it comes down to who wants it more.”
Wisconsin boasts the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week in 7-foot- center Frank Kaminsky. Against Michigan Kaminsky scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He averaged 4.2 points a game last year and now puts up 13.0 a game. That’s the Big Ten’s third-biggest year-over-year increase.
“He’s still developing his skills,” Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan said. “He’s a guy that continues to work. He’s got just to keep moving forward when it comes to when he hits rough spots. He’s the kind of guy that you want him to get too far down and then not too far up.
“Frank’s one of those guys that’s trying to maintain an even-keel of competitiveness and desire and keep it at a high level at all times and work through situations where things might not go his way. That’s what he did (against Michigan) and he’s been doing that more lately, in that he’s being a little bit more consistent and he’s still a developing big man. I liked what I saw (against Michigan) and I know his teammates did. Hopefully he has a lot more of that in that him.”
Tweets that matter from today’s announcers:
First ..The Soft..Iowa..ur in the B10..act like it..never seen a fan base as whiny as you..ur team is relevant..act like u belong in the B10— Dan Dakich (@dandakich) February 17, 2014