Brown: Tuesday a statement game for Iowa, Wisconsin
Iowa forward Aaron White calls Tuesday's Big Ten basketball duel at Wisconsin a statement game. Win, and the Hawkeyes stamp themselves as a serious title contender.
But it's a statement game for Wisconsin, too. Win, and the Badgers remain the head-and-shoulders class of the league.
This game is not a win-or-else moment for Iowa — off to an overachieving 4-1 start in conference play — but it would make quite a splash. The Hawkeyes enter the Kohl Center 3-0 in true road games this season, including at Big Ten stops Ohio State and Minnesota. Another road win against a top-10 team would look nice on the resume come Selection Sunday. And it would be a good start to Iowa's most demanding stretch of the Big Ten season.
Three of Iowa's next five games are against teams with one conference loss: Wisconsin (4-1) Tuesday and Jan. 31 in Iowa City and Maryland (5-1) at home Feb. 8. The other two games in that stretch are against a pair of teams with two conference losses, at Purdue on Saturday and at Michigan Feb. 5.
If Iowa can keep its head above water between now and the first weekend in February, it will be in good position for the stretch run.
The Badgers have been an overwhelming pick to win the Big Ten title since their 2014 Final Four run ended. And not much has changed, other than a stunning Jan. 11 loss at Rutgers when preseason conference player of the year Frank Kaminsky sat because of a concussion and Traevon Jackson suffered a foot injury early in the second half.
Jackson, a point guard, had surgery and is out indefinitely. But Wisconsin, 16-2 overall, remains the team to beat.
"Everyone wants to announce them the Big Ten champions, even though there's still 'X' amount of games to be played," White said. "It will b
e a big one for us. I've got great respect for them. But at the same time I'm anxious to beat them again, especially there."
Wisconsin leads the series, 80-79. The Badgers have won the past three games. Iowa won the three before that. The past three meetings at the Kohl Center have been tightly contested.
Iowa upset the 11th-ranked Badgers 72-65 on the final day of 2011. White scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half of his first career Big Ten road game. When Iowa returned in February 2013, Iowa guard Josh Oglesby's 3-pointer with 4 seconds remaining in regulation went halfway down and rattled out. Wisconsin won in double overtime, 74-70.
Both teams were ranked when they met in the Kohl Center in January 2014 — Wisconsin was No. 4, Iowa 22nd. The Hawkeyes took an 11-point halftime lead, but the lead was down to a basket when coach Fran McCaffery was ejected with just under 12 minutes to play, and Wisconsin won 75-71.
"I'm sick and tired of losing to teams we're better than," White said after the game.
It didn't turn out that way. Iowa went into a late-season slide, while Wisconsin made it to the Final Four. And the Hawkeyes' tough finish last year remains a topic of conversation. Big Ten Network analyst Jim Jackson said Sunday that he's taking a wait-and-see attitude toward this Hawkeye team because of last season's downward spiral.
Iowa could change a lot of perceptions in just 40 minutes Tuesday at the Kohl Center.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.