Leistikow's 5 thoughts: Please bring us an Iowa-Wisconsin hoops rematch in Big Ten Tournament

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

MADISON, Wis. — The men’s basketball teams for Iowa and Wisconsin are not scheduled to meet again this season. And that’s a real shame.

All we can hope for now is a rematch in the Big Ten Conference tournament March 9-13 in Indianapolis.

Because Thursday’s 87-78 win by Wisconsin in the Kohl Center had all the dramatic tenets of a classic “get your popcorn ready” basketball game.

Elite star power on both sides.

And plenty of bad blood.

Let’s start with the stars: Keegan Murray and Johnny Davis.

Earlier Thursday in The Athletic, Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis appeared as the projected No. 5 overall pick in Sam Vecenie’s mock 2022 NBA Draft; Iowa’s Keegan Murray was No. 13. Those positions are known as “lottery picks,” and neither player did anything to diminish his stock Thursday night in front of what FOX Sports 1 said were 18 NBA scouts in attendance.

Both super sophomores acknowledged the heightened buzz around this game, given that Murray is the nation’s No. 1 scorer and Davis is No. 3.

But give Davis the upper hand in this one, after scoring 26 points and grabbing nine rebounds with five assists in helping Wisconsin own a double-digit lead for 24 of the game’s 40 minutes. The Badgers’ biggest lead was 76-53 with 7:08 to go.

“I don’t really care about that (dynamic) right now,” Davis said. “He’s averaging more (points) than me, but they lost.”

OK, then.

Murray finished with a game-high 27 points on 10-for-16 shooting to go with five rebounds and three blocks. His mid-range jumper was uncharacteristically off. It was somewhat funny after the game when a Wisconsin reporter asked Iowa coach Fran McCaffery how the Badgers’ Tyler Wahl did a good job on Murray defensively.

“It’s interesting that we would say he was slowed down,” McCaffery said. “He had 27.

“You think about it, he shot 10-for-16. You say, 'Well, we lost the game. Maybe he should’ve shot 26 times.' If he would’ve shot 36 times, I would’ve been OK with it. He’s just a very efficient, efficient guy.”

It’s too bad that Iowa doesn’t get a home game with Wisconsin. Another Davis vs. Murray matchup would be so much fun at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

OK, now the bad blood.

It seems like there’s always something between these border rivals. And lately, there’s been a familiar central figure: Wisconsin guard Brad Davison.

Davison, as you may recall, was given a one-game suspension in January of 2020 after striking Iowa’s Connor McCaffery in the pelvic region while fighting through a screen.

Brad Davison registered 18 points and seven rebounds against Iowa. He salutes the Kohl Center crowd after sinking his lone 3-pointer of the game.

On Thursday, Iowa players and Fran McCaffery were fuming after Davison was awarded three free throws with 8 seconds left in the first half after it was ruled that Patrick McCaffery committed a foul on a 3-point attempt.

“He got me on the arm and the leg. So, both places,” Davison said afterward. “It was a good call.”

Patrick McCaffery disagreed, saying he blocked Davison’s 3-point attempt cleanly. Told of Davison’s comments, he … wasn’t buying it.

“He didn’t get hit in the arm. That is a fact. Maybe I got him in the leg,” McCaffery said. “There was no contact on the arm. Nowhere close.”

Replays showed Davison’s right leg, while airborne, swinging toward McCaffery’s right shin.

“If I hit him in the leg, it’s because he kicked me. Go watch the film. I’ll watch it. And if I’m wrong, tell me,” McCaffery continued. “And I didn’t think I was wrong. I think that was a really big play in the game — 90% foul shooter, put him on the line.”

Now, you could argue: Why gripe about three free throws in what was a 19-point game with 2½ minutes to go?

Davison would make all three free throws to give Wisconsin a 45-32 halftime lead. If there is no call, Joe Toussaint grabbed the air-ball rebound. Maybe Iowa gets a signature transition bucket and cuts it to 42-34.

It was telling that Fran McCaffery did not get a technical foul as he charged the court to dispute the call, shouting, “You can’t fall for that!” For what it's worth, two of the three game officials were not Big Ten regulars and were not as familiar with Davison's history.

Iowa players remain upset.

After the game, Connor McCaffery tweeted: “All 3 refs should be embarrassed to continue falling for this (crap). Do something about it, Big Ten. Comical at the point.”

Added Kris Murray: “That’s what he does. He gets those calls.”

Like I said … let's see these guys get matched up one more time in Indianapolis. And let the entertainment ensue.

Speaking of the Wisconsin rivalry … what a strange night for Jordan Bohannon.

Bohannon set an NCAA record by playing in his 158th career game, and it seemed fitting that he reached that milestone at the Kohl Center — where two older brothers, Jason and Zach, played as Badgers. And for the first time in his career, Bohannon missed more than two free throws in a game. A career 89.1% free-throw shooter, Bohannon was 3-for-6 from the line.  

Even more strangely, Bohannon didn’t attempt at shot until 3:20 remained. Yet he canned three 3-pointers — bringing his Big Ten-record total to 399 — in the final 2:24 to make the final score look more respectable.

“We’ve got to do a better job of getting him more shots,” Fran McCaffery said afterward.

On that note, Patrick McCaffery had one other rant. He wanted folks to know how valuable Bohannon is every game in attracting so much defensive attention. He certainly had a lot from Davison on Thursday.

“That opens up driving lines for guys like me, Keegan, Joe T,” McCaffery said. “A really good perimeter defender on the other team does not leave his side the entire game. Think about all the driving lanes that opens. ... I think we can use that to our advantage a little more.

“That’s something the outside doesn’t see, how much gravity he holds on the offensive end."

Rebounding has become a recurring problem.

Wisconsin is not a good rebounding team, yet it owned the Hawkeyes on the boards by a 43-26 margin.

In the three previous losses by Iowa (11-4, 1-3 Big Ten), it was outrebounded by whopping margins of 42-30 (by Purdue), 52-23 (by Illinois) and 50-32 (by Iowa State).

Keegan Murray stressed Iowa needs a teamwide commitment to crashing the boards.

Added Fran McCaffery: “You have to develop a mindset where you have to relentlessly go after every miss. Obviously, you have to get your guards back (on defense), but your 3, 4 and 5 have to go. That takes conditioning and a lot of tenacity. We need to be better in that area, quite frankly.”

The last time Iowa had a long break … it worked out well.

There is a lot of stress now on the Hawkeyes’ next game, Jan. 13 vs. Indiana. Iowa can't afford to fall to 1-4 in Big Ten play.

“A little bit of a wake-up call tonight,” said Kris Murray, who scored 12 points after totaling just eight in his previous three games. “This is a game we really wanted to win. Especially going 1-3 in the Big Ten’s kind of tough. It’s kind of separation, especially this early. Next week’s a big one.”

Iowa’s worst game of the season was a 73-53 loss to Iowa State, in which it hit just 5 of 27 from 3-point range. Iowa was 2-for-11 from 3 on Thursday before hitting 5 of 9 in the final six minutes. The Hawkeyes had a nine-day gap after that game in Ames before meeting a good Utah State team, and they played wonderfully in a 94-75 win.

Keegan Murray said the morale remains strong. Iowa entered Thursday with a No. 25 NCAA NET ranking. Of its next six games, only one (Purdue) has a top-40 NET ranking. The Hawkeyes need to have a productive week and start accruing some wins to develop an NCAA Tournament case.

“This week will benefit us a lot. Iowa State, we didn’t have a good rebounding game. Today, we didn’t have a good rebounding game. I see the resemblance there,” Keegan Murray said. “We just have to buy in as a team. We can’t let this one sting us. We have to go back to the work.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.