By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Jordan Bohannon is now more than halfway through his college basketball career, but he still carries at least one chip on his shoulder from high school.
And that chip will be part of Bohannon’s motivation to play well when No. 14 Iowa faces 22nd-ranked Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener on Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Bohannon never was offered a scholarship from Wisconsin despite having two older brothers who played for the Badgers.
“This is the game that I always have marked down on my calendar,” Bohannon said Thursday before practice. “Having two older brothers that played there and they didn’t want to recruit me, so that’s an extra chip on my shoulder.
“I’m not really putting it in front of any other, but I guess I kind of am because this means a little more to me, especially with my family history.”
Friday’s game isn’t just important to Bohannon for personal reasons. The fact that it’s the Big Ten opener and is being played at home to start a new 20-game conference schedule adds to its importance.
The 6-0 Hawkeyes have gained momentum and respect, but a loss out of the gate in conference play would be costly from a momentum standpoint. It also would put more pressure on Iowa to defeat Michigan State next Monday in East Lansing, Mich.
Iowa lost its Big Ten opener at home last season to Penn State and then fell at Indiana in the next game.
The team never recovered from the 0-2 start and finished just 4-14 in the Big Ten and 14-19 overall.
“Obviously, with the start we’ve had, this is going to be a huge game for us just to continue to improve and start building our foundation for a Big ten title that we hope to achieve,” said Bohannon, a 6-foot-1 junior guard. “And it starts with the first game and taking each day one day at a time.
“Starting out with Wisconsin doesn’t get much tougher than that. They’re one of the best teams in the conference right now. Both are ranked teams, so it’s going to be a battle.”
Wisconsin is coming off a season in which it finished a disappointing 15-18 overall and missed making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years. The Badgers also had their string of 16 consecutive top-four finishes in conference play come to an end last season.
Injuries played a significant role in Wisconsin’s decline last season, but now the team is healthy and senior forward Ethan Happ is living up to his reputation as one of top players in the conference.
The 6-10 Happ, who grew up near the Quad Cities in Milan, Ill., is averaging 18.0 points, 12.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.
“I think what makes Ethan Happ really good is that he has kind of a non-traditional game look to him,” said Iowa junior forward Ryan Kriener. “He kind of brings it up and he’s in the mid-post and then he kind of backs you down with short dribbles and he spins and then he spins again and he’s up-and-under and then it’s a reverse layup.
“He just plays a little different and has uniqueness to his game.”
Sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice also has provided a spark this season after missing the final 23 games last season due to a foot injury.
Trice, much like Bohannon, is a threat to score from 3-point range.
“Their team runs a lot smoother with him out there,” Bohannon said of Trice, who is averaging 17.0 points per game. “Trice is really skilled, able to get in the paint and able to knock down threes.
“He’s playing really well and you can tell that he’s worked really hard to get back to this point.”
Iowa’s offense also runs a lot smoother with Bohannon making big shots. The former Linn-Mar star made one of his biggest shots against Wisconsin as a freshman. It was a buzzer beater that lifted Iowa to a 59-57 victory on March 2, 2017 in Madison, Wis.
Bohannon wants to impact Friday’s game as much as possible, but he also wants to stay under control and not let his personal feelings dictate his play.
“It’s tough with knowing my history and playing a team like Wisconsin that I want to try and take over,” Bohannon said. “But I know that’s not my game. I know I have to play within myself and just let the game come to myself.”
Iowa has won the last two games against the Badgers, including an 85-67 victory last season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Eight of the last 12 meetings dating back to 2011 have been decided by seven points or less, with six of the last 10 games having been decided by five points or fewer.
“It’s a game that everyone looks forward to,” said Iowa senior forward Nicholas Baer.
Baer chooses to look forward rather than to the past for motivation. He is disappointed with how poorly Iowa performed last season, but he rarely uses it as motivation.
“We’re not talking about that as much,” Baer said of last season. “We’re talking about being a championship team. And for us to be a championship-level team, we’re going to have to compete at a very high level and understand that we’re going to 20 league games now.”
Iowa vs. Wisconsin
When: 7:06 p.m., Friday
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
TV: Big Ten Network
Series: Friday will be the 165th meeting between Iowa and Wisconsin. The Badgers own a narrow 83-81 advantage in the all-time series. Iowa holds a 51-29 advantage in games played in Iowa City.