Wisconsin Basketball will look to get back in the win column against a dangerous Minnesota team on Thursday. What are the keys to the game, and who wins?
Top to bottom, the Big Ten could be considered the best conference in the country this season, with each team capable of giving any other a battle on any given night. There will be no “gimme” games for Wisconsin throughout conference play this year.
That will certainly be the case when the Badgers take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers at the Kohl Center on Thursday night.
Wisconsin will look to keep the momentum going against its border rival, who has not won against the Badgers since the 2013-14 season. Since then, Wisconsin has won eight straight against Minnesota, including a 73-63 overtime win last season in Madison.
However, the Gophers are a dangerous team this year and should give the Badgers yet another difficult test. They have won five straight games since their loss to then-No.16 Ohio State back on December 2, including a victory over then-No.24 Nebraska, and feature a starting lineup in which all five players average double figures.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin has struggled over the last few games. Since the December 3 win over Rutgers, the Badgers have dropped additional contests to Marquette and Western Kentucky, though they thankfully did win against two cupcakes in Grambling State and Savannah State.
This team could really use the type of confidence boost that comes with defeating a quality opponent right about now. Will the Badgers get it done against the Gophers?
No. 22 WISCONSIN (10-3)
G – D’Mitrik Trice – SO (15.5 ppg)
G – Brad Davison- SO (10.5 ppg)
F – Khalil Iverson – SR (5.3 ppg)
F – Nathan Reuvers – SO (7.2 ppg)
C – Ethan Happ – SR (19.2 ppg)
G – Gabe Kalscheur – FR (10.4 ppg)
G – Dupree McBrayer – SR (10.6 ppg)
G – Amir Coffey – JR (15.1 ppg)
F – Jordan Murphy – SR (15.7 ppg)
C – Daniel Oturu – FR (10.8 ppg)
Keys to the game and prediction
This matchup concerns me.
Like the Western Kentucky squad that Wisconsin just lost to, Minnesota has players down low who can give Ethan Happ trouble, and when Happ struggles, so do the Badgers the vast majority of the time. The All-American candidate scored 20 points against the Hilltoppers, but they came on 9-23 shooting from the field as he struggled at times against a very talented and physical defender in Charles Bassey.
As a team, Wisconsin was outrebounded by Western Kentucky by a 38-31 margin and outscored in the paint, 40-38.
Happ and company will not have it any easier against the Gophers, who boast not one, but two forces down low in senior forward Jordan Murphy (15.7 points, 12.6 rebounds per game) and freshman center Daniel Oturu (10.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg), who are each impact players on both sides of the court.
Thanks in large part to Murphy and Oturu, Richard Pitino’s team ranks 11th in the nation in offensive rebounding and 35th in blocks. Both statistics are worrisome for a Wisconsin team that relies so heavily on one superstar post player, but the biggest concern of the two could be Minnesota’s ability on the boards, as the Badgers have not been a particularly good rebounding team this season. This could be the difference in what should be a tight game throughout.
That being said, there are some factors working in Wisconsin’s favor here.
The Gophers are not a great shooting team, ranking 219th nationally in overall field goal percentage. More specifically, they currently sit at No. 228 from inside the arc and No. 305 from beyond it. Minnesota has been able to put up many of their points from the free throw line, as they are No. 10 in the country in made free throws and No. 4 in attempts, but the Gophers will be meeting their match in the Badgers, who have fouled opponents less than all but 18 other teams this year.
All in all, Minnesota could have a very difficult time scoring on this Wisconsin team.
Also working in the Badgers’ favor is the Gophers’ horrendous perimeter defense. Minnesota ranks No. 250 in the country in the opponent three-point percentage, which is music to the ears of sharpshooter D’Mitrik Trice. Greg Gard desperately needs Trice to catch fire from beyond the arc, as he has cooled off a bit since his scorching start to the season. It’s no coincidence that he struggled in Wisconsin’s losses to Marquette and Western Kentucky.
These two teams look to be pretty evenly matched at this stage of the season, and Badgers fans should expect a back and forth contest that goes down to the final seconds. Ultimately, I’ll give Wisconsin the edge thanks to the homecourt advantage they will enjoy at the Kohl Center: even with many of the students home for break, a rivalry game like this should still bring out a lively crowd.
That being said, this one could really go either way, and I would not be at all surprised to see a Wisconsin loss. Nonetheless, I’ll go with a 68-64 Badger victory.
All stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com