GAME NOTES: A pair of ranked Big Ten teams are set for a marquee matchup on Sunday night, as the fourth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers play host to the 22nd- ranked Iowa Hawkeyes at the Kohl Center.
Iowa has run out to an impressive 12-2 start to the season, which includes a win in its most recent matchup, downing Nebraska on New Year's Eve in its Big Ten Conference opener, 67-57. Despite the Hawkeyes' success this season, they have only played one true road game, losing to intrastate foe Iowa State on Dec. 13, 85-82.
Meanwhile, at 14-0, Wisconsin is off to its best start since opening the 1913-14 season 15-0, and its 14 consecutive wins is its second-longest winning streak since 1946, falling short of only its 17-game run in 2006-07. The Badgers, who have registered signature wins over Florida (59-53), Saint Louis (63-57) and Marquette (70-64), began league play on Thursday night and made easy work of Northwestern on the road, 76-49.
The all-time series between these two long-time rivals can't get much closer, as Iowa leads Wisconsin by a narrow 79-78 margin. Each team won on its home floor in last season's series.
The Hawkeyes took care of business against Nebraska their last time out by outshooting it from the floor, 45.8 percent to 29.9 percent, and by using a 23-8 run in early in the second half to pull away. Roy Devyn Marble paced the effort with 15 points and eight rebounds. Aaron White was also stellar with 13 points and seven boards, while Jarrod Uthoff came off the bench to net 11 points.
Even though it was a relatively easy victory, the 67 points was a season-low for Iowa, which ranks sixth in the nation in scoring by putting up 87.1 ppg. It is far from a one-trick pony however, playing outstanding defense as well in holding opponents to 36.1 percent from the field for 64.9 ppg, while also boasting strong margins in the rebounding (+9.9) and turnover (+2.6) battles. Marble leads the way with 15.3 ppg, while White (13.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Uthoff (10.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg) are both strong in the paint. The team possesses a very deep bench, with eight other players averaging between 4.6 and 7.9 ppg.
The Badgers were nothing short of dominant in their league opener, shooting 55.2 percent from the field, holding Northwestern to just 34.5 percent and winning the rebounding battle, 38-27, in their fourth straight victory of at least 25 points. Nigel Hayes provided a spark off the bench, shooting 8-of-12 from the field for 19 points while adding six rebounds, three assists and two steals for good measure. Sam Dekker tallied 15 points and eight rebounds, while Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson poured in 10 points apiece.
Wisconsin has been impressive on the offensive end of the floor all season long, shooting 47.2 percent from the field (including 39.2 percent from 3- point range) for 75.1 ppg, but the biggest reason for its elite status has been the stout play of its defense, as it came into the weekend ranking 12th in the nation in allowing just 59.8 ppg. The balanced attack is spearheaded by Dekker, who posts 14.5 ppg and 6.4 rpg while shooting 53.1 percent from the field. Frank Kaminsky (13.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg) is another mainstay in the frontcourt, swatting away nearly two blocks per game, and Brust (12.4 ppg) and Jackson (10.6 ppg) round out the double-digit scorers.
Iowa clearly has plenty of offensive firepower, but it'll be hard-pressed to get much going against the stout Wisconsin defensive attack, especially at the Kohl Center, where the Badgers have been particularly dominant.
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