IOWA CITY — Ethan Happ hasn’t necessarily had the best games of his college career against the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin’s senior center has averaged 12.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.3 steals while shooting 56.7 percent from the field in four previous meetings with the Hawkeyes. Those are good numbers, but they’re hardly extraordinary for a player who ranks among the top four on the Badgers’ career list in each of those statistical categories.
However, there is no shortage of admiration for the former Rockridge High School star within the Iowa program.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has praised Happ for his versatility many times through the years and his players echo those thoughts.
“He’s probably the toughest guy to guard in the Big Ten for big guys because he has a little bit of an unorthodox game for a big guy,’’ Iowa center Ryan Kriener noted this week as the Hawkeyes prepared for one last clash with Happ on Thursday night in Madison.
“He’s constantly spinning, dribbling, such a gifted passer, a really crafty finisher. He’s really smart defensively. He’ll back tap you out of the post or get a block from the weak side or take a charge. You have to really keep your wits about you when you play him.’’
A few Iowa players have had a chance to be around Happ as a teammate or peer. Senior Nicholas Baer played with Happ in the Quad-City Elite AAU program. Freshman Joe Wieskamp has the same trainer as Happ (Jordan Delp) and has had a chance to work out with him a few times.
“He’s just a great player,’’ Wieskamp said. “I’ve been able to watch film with Coach Delp of Ethan and just watch his footwork and things like that, the way he sees the floor.’’
It’s that footwork, especially around the basket, that impresses Wieskamp most about a player he has studied and admired.
“You wouldn’t think a guy that can’t shoot the ball could be that effective at this level, but the way he moves his feet in the post and loads guys up … Teams are double-teaming him and he’s able to find the open guy,’’ Wieskamp added. “That’s why he has so many assists.’’
By far Happ’s best game against Iowa was last year in Iowa City when he collected 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals in an 85-67 Hawkeyes victory.
The previous season in Madison, he missed two free throws with 29 seconds remaining, allowing Iowa to pull out a 59-57 victory on a late 3-pointer by Jordan Bohannon. Happ went 1 for 7 at the foul line in that game.
For all of his talents, free throw shooting remains the one chink in Happ’s armor. He has connected at a 54.2-percent rate for his college career, 45 percent this season.
Some teams have resorted to just fouling him as a way slow down the Badgers and as a result, he often has not been on the court in the final minutes of close games.
McCaffery, who will miss Thursday's game because of a recent suspension, didn’t completely dispel the idea that the Hawkeyes might use some hack-a-Happ tactics.
“You've got to recognize that he's one of the better players in our league, and he's going to have the ball a lot, so you have the opportunity to foul him if you want to,'' McCaffery said.
“So we'll see what's the situation. Are you up one, down one, down six? How much time? What are the circumstances? Do you think you have him in a good position or do you just go ahead and whack him? There's a lot of differing factors that would enter into that.’’