For a second there, it looked like Wisconsin might finally turn the ball over.
Iowa was set up in a full-court press, and Frank Kaminsky, the Badgers' 7-foot national player of the year candidate, tried to use his considerable ballhandling skills to turn the corner on the Hawkeyes' trap. He didn't quite get there, and when he picked up his dribble, Iowa guard Mike Gesell converged. Gesell deflected Kaminsky's exit pass to forward Nigel Hayes. The scramble was on.
Actually, never mind. Almost as soon as the ball popped out, Hayes recovered control. He shoveled it forward across half court to Kaminsky, who took one dribble and whipped a perfect overhead pass ahead to a streaking, soon-to-be-dunking Duje Dukan.
There were 6:46 seconds left in the second half, the score was 68-39, and, no, sorry, the Badgers still hadn't committed a turnover.
Officially, anyway. Eventually, the scorer's table was forced to make an ignominious adjustment. During Wisconsin's first possession of the second half, the officials missed an air-ball-rebound exchange that was ruled a shot-clock violation. At the time, the Hawkeyes were given the ball out of bounds. When the call was eventually straightened out late in the second half, Wisconsin was credited with its lone turnover of the night.
That's how masterful the Badgers were in Tuesday's 82-50 win over Iowa: Their only turnover of the evening came on a technicality.
Bo Ryan's team was about as close to perfect on the offensive end as a college basketball team can be, and in the most impressive, least fluky sense of the phrase. Their 82 points came in 53 possessions, which is, if our math is correct, closer to two points per possession (1.54) than the one-per-trip that marks an average offensive night. And how? Not because Wisconsin had some impossibly torrid shooting performance. It finished 29-of-59 from the field, 9-of-22 from 3, and 15-of-19 from the free throw line. Good, but not mind-blowing. No, Wisconsin flirted with a different kind of perfection, the kind coaches conjure in their warmest lucid dreams -- a rarefied, mistake-free place where you force opposing defenses to guard you well on each and every possession.
Iowa was hardly up to that task. The Hawkeyes arrived in Madison as a newly minted member of the Associated Press Top 25 -- and the third spoke in the state of Iowa's first three-team AP poll ever -- thanks to a 4-1 start in Big Ten play and zero road losses all season. That was reason enough to celebrate for Iowa fans, who are (understandably) still smarting from 2013-14's late-season collapse. It also belied serious deficiencies on the defensive end. In Iowa's first five Big Ten games, it averaged 1.15 points per possession, second-best in the Big Ten -- but it allowed 1.10 points per trip, the league's second-worst rate. If there are defenses that can stand up to the Badgers' glorious passing, Iowa is not among them.
Emphasis on if. Let's be fair: Who else could have slowed -- let alone stopped -- Wisconsin on this night? The Badgers' 13.2 percent turnover rate was already the nation's highest before Iowa came to town; Wisconsin is better than anyone in the country at not giving the ball away. But what separates this offense from prior Ryan units is the quantity of weapons at his disposal. Kaminsky can do everything, inside or out, on the offensive end. Sam Dekker, who finished with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, would be the high-volume scorer on all but a handful of the nation's teams. Hayes, a classic power forward with 18-foot range, might deserve the same distinction. Josh Gasser is a smart, reliable senior guard who can't be left free on the perimeter; on Tuesday, he was the only Badgers starter who failed to score between 13 and 17 points. How do you stop that?
If there was some hope for the desperate defenses of the Big Ten, it came in the form of injury, when starting point guard Traevon Jackson required surgery for a foot fracture he suffered late in the Badgers' Kaminsky-less road loss to Rutgers. Instead, Ryan has simply slotted in Bronson Koenig to little noticeable detriment. The two players have vastly different styles. Jackson is as patient and probing as Koenig is direct. But Koenig is a better 3-point shooter (35 percent to Jackson's 26 percent), and he robs rotating defenders of the one spot on the floor they might be willing to yield an open look.
All of which adds up to this: On Tuesday night, Wisconsin beat a ranked Big Ten team, one without a road loss yet this season, by 32 points. In the process, they committed exactly one turnover. Which came on a shot-clock violation. Thanks to a scorer's table correction. Without their starting point guard.
Oh, sure, there were better games Tuesday night. Kansas State pushed Iowa State on the road; Vanderbilt forced Kentucky to earn all 40 minutes of yet another SEC win; Davidson made 12 3s in a raucous win over No. 22 Dayton.
But nothing came close to the Ph.D.-level passing master class in Madison. It will take much more than one night before anything does. Great works of art are rare. A team that passes like this is no exception.