One supposedly fierce quasi-rodent down, and one to go. Just three days after a confidence restoring road win at Michigan, the Gophers will need all that confidence, all the skill and athleticism they can muster, and maybe a bit of luck to beat the hated Badgers in what would be a signature and possibly program changing win.
A win tomorrow afternoon will go a long way to help close the borders and show Minnesota high school basketball players that they do not need to choose between being part of a winning program and representing their home state. But the Gophers have their work cut out for them.
Call the Badgers slow, boring, and ugly, but don’t call them a bad basketball team. As much as I along with everyone else that has undergone the excruciating task of watching the Badgers hates the way they play, you can’t deny that it is successful. Wisconsin is coming off a big win against Indiana in which they thoroughly dominated. Yes, Indiana to cut it to 5 late in the second half, but it was never really that close.
The Barn will be rocking on Sunday, but Wisconsin is not a team easily rattled. Like the rest of Bo Ryan’s teams, they are disciplined, and should match up well against every player the Gophers throw at them.
Brian Butch may have the worst nickname in all of college basketball, and wear women’s underwear, but he can quietly take over a game. Essentially, he is an in-shape Spencer Tollackson who can rebound with a decent outside shot. What’s that? He is nothing like Tollackson? Good point. The next member of Wisconsin’s albino triumvirate is Joe Krabbenhoft. He is an unathletic version of what Gopher fans hope Damian Johnson will eventually be on the offense
end of the floor. Much like Johnson, Krabbenhoft puts a lot of small numbers all over the stat sheet. He is averaging 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists, but is capable of putting up better numbers in those categories. Marcus Landry fills the role of the only 45 year old in the Big Ten, complete with rec specs, and in his middle age has developed a three point shot. If any of the Badger bigs start nailing 3’s, things could get ugly and fast. The Badger back court isn’t bad either. Trevon Hughes puts in around 13 points per game, but is a bit turnover prone. Michael Flowers is a senior who has steadily improved each year he has played on the wrong side of the border.
For the Gophers, it is anyone’s guess how playing time will be distributed. Against Michigan, Tubby Smith played the starters more than at any other time this season, and Al Nolen was the only Gopher to see substantive minutes off the bench. The question is whether this will be a new season long strategy, or if he was saving the bench for what should be a grueling game tomorrow.
My best guess is that it is a bit of both. I wouldn’t be surprised if the line changes are gone for good and that Tubby is much more conservative with his substitutions, but I don’t expect every starter to play more than 30 minutes. Wisconsin loves to slow the game down and make their opponents work on both ends in a half court situation. Minnesota should try to fluster the Badgers, as difficult as that can be, and speed up the game. If this happens, the Gophers will need plenty of fresh legs to keep Wisconsin on their toes. A faster game and Wisconsin’s front court will also create more fouls, which means Jonathan Williams better be ready to contribute.
There is no doubt that this will an exceedingly tough game for the Gophers, and I will be happy if the game is competitive enough for the crowd to be involved. Minnesota will want this game too much for it get out of hand, but desire only gets you so far, and the Badgers will win because they have too much talent, but it will be close at least.
Prediction: Wisconsin 69 – Minnesota 64