Can Iowa men's basketball bounce back at Wisconsin? If so, it'll start on defense.

Kennington Lloyd Smith III
Des Moines Register

Following an ugly 80-60 loss to Northwestern on Sunday, Iowa men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery said the team has had the right temperament entering a new week.

No harder-than-normal practices or conversations out of the ordinary, just returning to work.

"Let's have a regular practice," McCaffery said. "Watch the film then obviously move on to the next team because you got to start getting ready for them. So just business as usual."

The Hawkeyes' next contest, Wednesday at Wisconsin, holds significance for Iowa's Big Ten positioning. The team, 17-10 overall and 9-7 in Big Ten is in a four-way tie for fourth place (a top-four seed means a double-bye in the conference tournament) and is one game back of third place Indiana.

Iowa's first Big Ten game this season was against Wisconsin (15-11, 7-9) at home, a 78-75 overtime loss. McCaffery noted that both teams have changed since then, with both making starting lineup changes and having a few players gain more experience throughout the year.

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It goes without saying that the Hawkeyes need a better offensive output in Madison on Wednesday following a season-worst shooting performance against Northwestern: 3-for-24 (12.5%) from long range, but McCaffery said another area concerned him when watching the film.

"We made defensive mistakes," McCaffery said. "We were not clicking defensively at all."

Northwestern jumped out to an early double-digit lead behind a barrage of 3-pointers. When Iowa got within striking distance on a few occasions in the second half, the Wildcats always had an answer on offense. Poor defensive performances on the road haven't been uncommon this season, recent examples include Ohio State and Purdue, but strong defense lifted the Hawkeyes past Minnesota just nine days ago.

Limiting Wisconsin's offense presents a unique challenge for Iowa. The Badgers notoriously play at a slower pace, their long offensive sets force teams to play sound defense for almost the entirety of the shot clock. And Wisconsin rarely makes mistakes, ranking No,1 in the Big Ten in fewest turnovers (8.7).

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How does Iowa plan to counteract it? McCaffery said it's going to require a physical effort without getting into foul trouble. Limiting their number of shots will be critical too, with Wisconsin recording 15 offensive rebounds in its last game at Rutgers. If the Hawkeyes can do those things, transition offense opportunities should open up and help provide some momentum.

"They don't run traditional set plays where they're making a play call or one of the assistant coaches is holding up a sign," McCaffery said. "A lot of is based on read and react so they're running action more than set plays and the kids have really good feel for how you're playing them.

"It requires five guys being committed together on every possession because (Wisconsin) is kind of relying on somebody standing up, somebody's going to turn their head, somebody's going to relax.. and that's when it gets you."

Fran McCaffery provides progress reports for Patrick McCaffery, Josh Ogundele

Iowa forward Patrick McCaffery (22) dribbles as Rutgers forward Antwone Woolfolk (13) defends during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Two players who've missed significant time and are still re-adjusting are juniors Patrick McCaffery (anxiety) and Josh Ogundele (knee). On Tuesday, Fran McCaffery provided some insight on both.

Ogundele's only played in one game since Christmas, on Feb. 9 against Purdue. McCaffery said he's continuing to work and regular playing time could be on the horizon as he keeps making strides in his health.

"Even when he came back. I thought he was not quite 100%," McCaffery said. "I think he's more comfortable now with his legs under him. And he's anxious to play. He's ready to play. And he'll get some opportunities, but he's been practicing well."

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Patrick McCaffery's played in every game since his return in late January and is averaging 5.8 points and two rebounds in about 16 minutes of action. There's been a re-adjustment to the game flow, a new role for him and coach McCaffery noted that his conditioning is still a work in progress. But Fran McCaffery described the forward as "close" to returning to early season form.

"His game is getting closer to being as comfortable and playing like he was. I think it's been good for him to come off the bench and be a little more relaxed but you know, we need him," Fran McCaffery said. "As the season goes on you need all your scorers, you need all your veteran guys. He's been good and he'll continue to get better."