Feb. 22, 2016
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By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The weeklong break from the grind of the Big Ten Conference schedule came at the perfect time with what lies ahead for the No. 8/8 University of Iowa men’s basketball team.
The Hawkeyes begin a four-game stretch that will shape the Big Ten regular season title race Wednesday, hosting Wisconsin at 8 p.m. (CT) on Mediacom Court.
“When you get into late February, it’s good to give your body a rest,” said redshirt freshman Nicholas Baer. “Mentally, (the break) allowed us to go back to what was good earlier in the season and work on what wasn’t good the last few games and try to fix those things.
“Overall everybody here is committed to getting back to the basics.”
There wasn’t a specific area UI head coach Fran McCaffery addressed since Iowa last took the court Feb. 17 in a 79-75 road loss at Penn State. The focus was on improving.
“It was not one area where I felt like we were deficient,” McCaffery said Monday during a news conference in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “You want to go back and work on everything you do and try to get better in every one of those areas. That’s what we tried to do.”
With home games against Wisconsin and league-leading Indiana (March 1), and road dates at Ohio State (Feb. 28) and Michigan (March 5) remaining in the regular season, McCaffery says the defense needs to improve.
Iowa has surrendered 78.3 points per game in its last three contests, dropping two of three games. During the 7-0 start to Big Ten play, the Hawkeyes’ defense yielded 68 points per game.
“We’re close, but our defense has to be better, especially with the weapons we are going to face Wednesday night,” said McCaffery. “When I say we need to get better on defense, it will never be one thing.
“It is ball pressure, weak-side help, rebounding, limiting to one shot, more attention to detail as it relates to the other team’s best players, better at defending ball screens, defending in transition, and better communication… it’s all of that. Our defense hasn’t been awful, but it hasn’t been as good as it needs to be.”
Wisconsin is a microcosm of its typical self under interim head coach Greg Gard. Gard, who is in his 15th season on the Badgers’ staff, replaced Bo Ryan as head coach on Dec. 23.
“They haven’t changed that much,” said McCaffery. “They’re still doing what they’ve always done, and it’s a winning formula.”
Since starting Big Ten play 1-4, Wisconsin has won eight of its last nine games to move to 17-10 overall and 9-5 in league play, tied for fifth in the standings. The Badgers overcame a 13-point second-half deficit to defeat Illinois, 69-60, Sunday at the Kohl Center.
Three Wisconsin players — junior Nigel Hayes (16.7 points), junior Bronson Koenig (13.4), and redshirt freshman Ethan Happ (12.1) — average double figures. Happ is the team’s top rebounder at eight per game.
“They’re going to play hard and physical,” said Baer. “They have some talented bigs that can stretch you and Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are their leaders. They do a nice job leading.”
Wednesday’s game is the Black & Gold Spirit Game, click HERE to see the arena’s color assignments. A limited number of standing room only tickets remain and they can be purchased through the UI Athletics Ticket Office at 800-IA-HAWKS or online at hawkeyesports.com.