Preview: Wisconsin Faces a Major Test as Iowa Visits Madison

Trae Jackson struggled last year against Iowa. Will he bounce back? - David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Both teams have jumped out of the gate early and have exceeded expectations. Which team will come home with a signature win early in conference play?

By the Numbers:

Wisconsin Team Iowa
14-0 Record 12-2
#4 Rankings #22
1 RPI 21
2 BPI 13
4 KenPom 14
4 Sagarin 8

January 5, 2014 - Kohl Center - Madison, WI

8:00 PM ET, BTN

Skinny:

Wisconsin has been one of the biggest surprises in the country so far this year, jumping out to a 14-0 start, the team's best start since 1915. So far, this Wisconsin team has shown some serious flexibility in their play style. They've won games in which they scored 48 points and 103 points alike. This means that the classic concerns about Wisconsin and their lack of offense don't really apply to this team. The Badgers are coming off of a dominating victory over Northwestern in Evanston, 76-48, where they looked downright clinical. They are deep offensively, and as always, defensively sound.

But the one team that has given the Badgers trouble in recent memory has been the Iowa Hawkeyes. Last season, the Hawkeyes played Wisconsin twice: they beat them at home, and lost a double-OT thriller in Madison where Wisconsin only narrowly scraped past them. And two years ago? Iowa beat Wisconsin in both of their meetings. On top of all that, this Iowa team is the best they've had in years. Coach Fran McCaffery has put together an offensive dynamo that forms one of the deepest teams in the country. Since Iowa is striving for their first NCAA Tournament birth since 2006, a victory over the #4 ranked team in one of the toughest environments in the country would be quite the resume builder.

Projected Starting Lineups:

Wisconsin Pos. Iowa
Traevon Jackson G Mike Gesell
Ben Brust G Roy Devyn Marble
Josh Gasser G/F Melsahn Basabe
Sam Dekker F Aaron White
Frank Kaminsky C Adam Woodbury

Wisconsin Players to Watch:

Frank Kaminsky - Kaminsky has been a huge positive for the Badgers. After averaging only 10.3 minutes last year coming off the bench to replace Jarred Berggren, Kaminsky has taken on a much bigger role, and hasn't let down. He's increased exponentially in all statistical categories, as he's now averaging 13.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game. He's also become a much more reliable three-point shooter, increasing his percentage from 31% last year to 42% this year. But he's hasn't been perfect. In the victory over Florida, he looked overmatched against Patric Young. He also struggled a bit against Northwestern, allowing Wildcats center Alex Olah to drop a career-high 23 points. He'll be facing off against a very big and very physical Iowa team, and will match up with Adam Woodbury at center. Woodbury isn't the greatest offensive threat, but could give Kaminsky problems down low. If Kaminsky can stretch the floor and find open looks around the perimeter, the Badgers should be fine.

Traevon Jackson - After being thrust into the point guard position last season, Jackson has looked astronomically more comfortable this year. His steady hand has played a major part in the Badgers' fast start, as he's decreased his turnovers and has taken on more of a leadership role this year. However, some of his roughest games last year came against Iowa. During the loss in Iowa City, Jackson went 1-10 from the field in 31 minutes of play. Eww. A lot of those misses were his trademark mid-range pull-up, which he's definitely improved this season. He didn't look much better in the Badgers' victory over Iowa last year as well, shooting 3-10 and turning the ball over 5 times. Mike Gesell clearly gives him trouble, but this is a much-improved Jackson. If Trae is under control, Wisconsin will continue to thrive offensively.

Nigel Hayes - This freshman from Toledo, OH has been a saving grace for the Badgers off the bench. He demonstrates a physical maturity that's rare for young guys, and recently, he's gained some offensive confidence. In the past three games, he's put up 17, 10, and 19 points. That's very impressive for a guy who's only averaging 15.2 minutes. Hayes' confidence isn't just coming from himself; Trae Jackson has said some very impressive stuff about the freshman:

"Nobody can guard him. We know that," Jackson said. "But he has to have that mentality that nobody can guard him. He's the only person that can guard himself."

Since Iowa plays a big lineup, Hayes will see his role increase this game. He's going to be tested against Iowa's experienced and offensively-potent front court. If he keeps his hot streak going, watch out.

Iowa Players to Watch:

Roy Devyn Marble - Marble is arguably the focal point of the potent Iowa offense. He's not the most efficient of scorers, but when he's on, he's tough to stop. His game against Nebraska illustrates his role in the Hawkeye attack. He didn't shoot the lights out, going 4-12 from the field, but attacked the rim. He went 7-11 from the charity stripe, He also added 8 rebounds and 4 assists to go along with those 15 points. In Marble's best games, he does a little bit of everything. In his worst games, he takes way too many shots, bringing their offense to a halt. He stands at 6'6", so he'll have a height advantage on whoever ends up guarding him (most likely Ben Brust unless Iowa goes small). He's yet to face a squad that plays such sold team-defense like Wisconsin, so he's going to be tested. If he can keep his shots efficient, Iowa will be in good shape.

Adam Woodbury - While Woodbury starts, he doesn't see a whole lot of minutes. The sophomore sadly hasn't seen his role increase from freshman year. So far, he's averaging 16.5 minutes a game, the exact same number from last season. I wrote about his struggles to develop earlier, and those all remain true. He's yet to learn how to use his size effectively, and this hasn't translated into offensive success. He still can force his man to change shots very well, but faces a tough challenge guarding Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky can step out and shoot the three very well, so Woodbury will have to chase him around all game to stop him. That matchup could decide this game. Woodbury needs to prevent Kaminsky from getting hot, and it would be a huge help for Iowa if Woodbury can finish properly around the rim.

Jarrod Uthoff - Uthoff's drama-filled journey from Wisconsin to Iowa has been discussed ad nauseum. But our friends at Bucky's 5th Quarter brought up this interesting point on Twitter yesterday about Uthoff.

He's not wrong. Hayes has been a revelation as a back-up big man for the Badgers. But you can't deny that Uthoff is having a monster year so far. He's putting up 10.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, and is shooting 52% from three. I've been pleasantly surprised with his athleticism and ball-handling, and think he's going to play a major role for Iowa as they attempt to climb the Big Ten ladder. Hopefully we see Uthoff square off against Sam Dekker a lot. Normally, I'd take Dekker to dominate any 1-on-1 matchup, but Uthoff will be tough. The crowd will be sharply anti-Uthoff, but if that fuels some sharp shooting, Iowa will be in good shape.

Prediction:

It's not often that we get such a high-profile matchup this early in conference play. This game will be dictated by Roy Devyn Marble and Traevon Jackson. Whoever plays more under control will win this game. If the Badgers' defense takes Marble out of his comfort zone, he could put a damper on the impressive Iowa offense. But if the defense of Mike Gesell gives Trae Jackson some deja vu to last season, he could start to take bad shots and turn the ball over. It will also be interesting how the lineups develop throughout the game. Iowa generally plays bigger, which will force Bo Ryan to play Nigel Hayes a lot. Like I said earlier, that could end up being a positive, but that's going to be a challenge for the freshman. But what if Wisconsin's guards take over and force Iowa to play small? If that's the case, Iowa will struggle. Anthony Clemmons and Josh Oglesby are solid, but aren't going to win a game for you. I think that scenario is unlikely, but you never know. Freshman Bronson Koenig broke onto the scene in non-conference play, and could make a major impact on the game.

This game will be close, especially when you consider that the Kohl Center won't be its normal rocking self. It's winter break in Madison, so the student section will be much tamer (especially on Uthoff). Even so, I think Wisconsin is too strong for this Iowa team. The Badgers can play any offensive style, and should be able to counteract Iowa's height. Look for Bo Ryan to squeak out another victory as Wisconsin keeps rolling. Wisconsin by 2.

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