MADISON - For one reason or another, the Iowa Hawkeyes have had the Wisconsin Badgers' numbers over their last few games. The Badgers are currently riding a three-game losing streak to Iowa that dates back to Dec. 31 of 2011, when they lost 72-65 to the Hawkeyes at home in the Kohl Center.
The Badgers have lost to the Hawkeyes by an average of about four points per game during that span, even though they haven't played particularly poorly against Iowa in those games. Even including a terrible 3-for-28 performance on 3-pointers in one game, the Badgers are still shooting 42 percent from the floor against the Hawkeyes during their losing streak, and have made 48 percent of their shots inside the arc against Fran McCaffery's team.
So why, then, can the Badgers not seem to shake the Hawkeyes? Iowa has simply out-played the Badgers, according to assistant coach Gary Close.
"I don't know if there's any one thing- I think Iowa is a team that has played very well when they've played us," Close said after practice Monday. "I don't think it is as much that we've played poorly as they've played very well."
Over their last three games with the Badgers, the Hawkeyes are shooting 46 percent from the floor, which includes an impressive 41 percent mark from behind the arc. They've also been able to convert their free throws into points against the Badgers, and have shot at a 73 percent clip from the charity stripe.
Those numbers include fantastic performances like Matt Gatens' 33-point game against the Badgers this time last year and Aaron White's 13 made free throws against the Badgers last month, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the Hawkeyes have beaten the Badgers in some of the most important stats.
During their winning streak, Iowa has beaten Wisconsin at holding on to the ball and have been more effective on the glass. Iowa averaged just over nine turnovers against Wisconsin, but the Hawkeyes also forced the Badgers to turn the ball over 10 times per game, while winning the overall rebounding edge 98-95 over the last three games. Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said after seeing them up close over the last few years, he's convinced the Hawkeyes have what it takes to keep competing in the Big Ten.
"They certainly can play," Ryan said during his press conference Monday. "They have guys with experience. They have depth. That's what you need in this league, and then you can compete with anybody if you have that. Iowa is as good as any team as I've seen in the league."
And against the Badgers, it certainly helps if one player or two can step up consistently. And over the last three games, White has been that player for the Badgers. A 6-foot-8 sophomore forward, White has put together and impressive career so far, but he's always found a way to sting the Badgers in particular.
White averages over 15 points per game against Wisconsin, and has shot over 72 percent from the floor against them. White has already scored 17 points against the Badgers this season, with the majority of those points coming on free throws. White made 13-of-15 shots from the line in the Badgers' 70-66 loss to the Hawkeyes earlier this season in Iowa City, and Close said the Badgers will have to find a way to bottle him up without putting him on the line too often when the two teams play next on Wednesday night on the Kohl Center.
"Aaron White is one of the top players in the league," Close said. "Everyone in this league would love to have him. If he were playing for Michigan, Michigan State, or Indiana the whole country would know about him."
But thanks to experience, the Badgers know White and the rest of the Hawkeyes very well. And even though the Hawkeyes are Wisconsin's last opponent before the team kicks off another three game stretch against ranked teams, it's clear that they won't be treating Iowa like the ninth place team their 3-6 conference record says they are. They've been burned too many times to take McCaffery's team lightly.
"They're a developing program that's on the right track," Close said. "They're dangerous, as people have found out. They're a tough out, as we well know. We understand it completely."