The Big Ten’s preseason favorite was no match for Wisconsin its last time out, the fifth win in six games for coach Bo Ryan’s team heading into a visit with one of the conference’s bottom feeders.
Suddenly, though, a victory at Iowa is anything but a sure thing.
The Badgers try to build off their impressive performance Wednesday night against the Hawkeyes, who look to win a third consecutive conference game for the first time in four years.
Wisconsin (17-5, 7-3) split its first four Big Ten games, blowing a chance at a 3-1 start by letting a late second-half lead slip away in a 64-61 overtime loss at Michigan State on Jan. 11.
The Badgers have fallen just once since, and they got revenge on the reeling Spartans on Sunday. Jordan Taylor scored 30 points and Jon Leuer added 20 as Wisconsin shot 59.0 percent - 11 of 17 from 3-point range - in dismantling the nation’s preseason No. 2 team 82-56.
“I think it’s about playing for 40 minutes,” said Leuer, the Big Ten’s third-leading scorer at 19.4 points per game. “At Michigan State we played 37 or 38 minutes. It’s kind of at a point for us where we just need to play a good 40 minutes. The past couple of games we’ve been able to do that.”
Iowa (10-13, 3-8) can finally say the same as it’s turned itself around on both ends after opening conference play 1-8. The Hawkeyes routed the Spartans four days before Wisconsin did, shooting 57.7 percent in a 72-52 victory, then rallied from a five-point halftime deficit Saturday to eke out a 64-63 win at Indiana.
Coach Fran McCaffery’s team held the Spartans and Hoosiers to 37.6 percent. In the first nine Big Ten games, Iowa allowed its opponents to shoot 51.1 percent - 331st in the nation.
A win Wednesday would give the Hawkeyes their first three-game conference winning streak since Jan. 31-Feb. 7, 2007.
“We need to see if we can continue to be consistent,” McCaffery said Monday. “I think we all agree the Michigan State game was our best 40 minutes of the year, and then to go on the road and be able to come back, in that environment, that’s not an easy place to play.”
The Hawkeyes would love to see some more consistency from Melsahn Basabe. The freshman forward has scored 20 points in three of his last five games, but he’s sandwiched two 4-point performances in between.
While Basabe has been one of the conference’s best freshmen with 10.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, Wisconsin has one of the nation’s best all-around players in its backcourt. Taylor is one of just 10 players in the country averaging 17.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists, and he’s coming off a career high in points.
He certainly impressed Spartans coach Tom Izzo.
“As good as Leuer is - and I like Leuer - when they say Taylor’s the straw the stirs the drink, he is the straw that stirs the drink,” Izzo said. “He definitely has made them a better team. I told him after the game, I think he’s improved as much as anyone I’ve seen.”
It was Leuer, though, who helped lead his team to an easy win over Iowa on March 3. He had 18 points - hitting 8 of 9 shots - in the Badgers’ 67-40 rout.
The teams haven’t played in Iowa City since the Hawkeyes’ 73-69 overtime win Jan. 21, 2009.