No. 16 Wisconsin paid a visit to No. 15 Iowa on Saturday afternoon and, as you should come to expect from a marquee Big Ten game, it turned into a thriller, with the Badgers leaving Iowa City with a 79-74 win.
In the first half, the Badgers found more holes in Iowa’s man-to-man defense than a TV critic could find in the plot of Dexter’s final season, building a double-digit lead and heading into the half up 40-31. In the second stanza, Iowa switched to a 2-3 zone, stymied the Badgers and eventually took the lead back.
The two sides traded buckets — and leads — over the final minutes, and after Josh Oglesby’s second-straight jumper curling off of a screen, the Hawkeyes had a 72-71 lead with less than a minute left.
That’s when the true colors for both teams shined through.
Bo Ryan called a timeout and drew up a play to try to get Traevon Jackson coming off of a ball-screen from Frank Kaminsky, but Iowa defended it perfectly. With the shot clock running down, Josh Gasser came off of a ball-screen from Kaminsky and made a beautiful, over-the-top pass to get Kaminsky a go-ahead layup after he slipped the screen.
On the ensuing Iowa possession, after a Fran McCaffery timeout, Roy Devyn Marble turned the ball over. After two Wisconsin free throws gave the Badgers a three-point lead, Iowa called another timeout that led to … Zach McCabe taking a challenged three off of a curl with plenty of time left on the clock.
And therein lies the difference between the Badgers and the Hawkeyes.
From a personnel perspective, there really isn’t much of a difference between these two teams. They are both balanced offensively and up-and-down defensively with a pair of all-conference caliber players that are way under-the-radar. Their records are similar enough, with the Badgers sitting at 22-5 and 9-5 in the league while Iowa is 19-7 and 8-5 in the Big Ten.
The Hawkeyes are 2-7 on the season against teams ranked in the top 20 of the RPI. The two games they’ve won were both by double-figures. The seven games they lost? None of them were by more than eight points.
Rankings that crunch numbers — KenPom, BPI, etc. — love the Hawkeyes. They do so many things well, and they don’t have a single “bad” loss on their resume.
The problem, however, is that they are a handful of possessions away from having one of the best profiles in the country.
Iowa has proven that they can outplay anyone in the country. Literally. That’s not an exaggeration. But their late-game execution has cost them time and again this year, and their seed in the NCAA tournament will show it.