The ancient border war is set for round number two of the 2013/14 season.
The No. 21 Wisconsin Badgers (19-5) take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers (16-8) on Thursday night. But this time the Gophers have to cross the border en route to the Kohl Center in Madison.
Will the home court, where Wisconsin took down the No. 9 Spartans last Sunday, help the Badgers take down their rival?
Wisconsin is looking to avoid a season sweep by the Gophers and is looking to keep its two-game winning streak going. Minnesota has lost three of its previous four games and is 5-6 in the conference; the Badgers find themselves at 6-5 in the Big Ten.
What to Watch For: Can the Badgers continue their recent success at defense in the lane? Something that has come so naturally to all Bo Ryan-led Wisconsin squads eluded the Badgers for most of conference play this year. Although, Badgers defenders have seemed to figure it out a bit against Illinois and Michigan State. If they don’t continue that trend, Minnesota has a good chance to head back to the land of 10,000 lakes with a season sweep of Bucky. Controlling the lane is paramount in keeping control of the game.
Player to Watch: Andre Hollins, who was hurt in the first minute of the matchup earlier in the year, is recovered from the ankle injury and looks as dangerous as ever. He leads Minnesota in scoring, dropping 14.9 a contest this year. The kid can score from anywhere on the court – check out Hollins’ skills by clicking here. He certainly has something to prove having to spend the first game of this series on the bench following his injury.
What Wisconsin Has to Do: The Badgers have to hit their three-pointers for their offensive strategy to work. The swing offense depends on quick passes, cutting to the basket and hitting open threes when ball-handlers are double-teamed. Ben Brust was 1-8 in three-point attempts in the win over Sparty and has struggled recently from behind the arc. Kaminsky has had his troubles shooting recently as well. These two players both need to find their consistent scoring touch from three-point land. That will go a long way to defeating the Gophers.
X-Factor: Nigel Hayes and his free-throw shooting is the X-factor in this game — and almost any game the Badgers play. Hayes can seemingly be fouled at will any time he gets in the post and makes a move; he’s that strong. And his free-throw shooting, which was poor to say the least early in the year, has been relatively strong in recent games. He shot 8-12 from the line against the Spartans, including some big makes down the stretch to help seal the game. His presence and consistent scoring from the line could very well be the difference in this game.
Prediction: I think the Badgers keep their momentum going and come away with a hard fought victory. 64-59 Wisky. The Grateful Red will push the Badgers over the edge in this matchup of two solid teams.
The game is at 8:00 PM CT and can be watched on ESPN nationwide.