#17 Golden Gophers vs.Wisconsin Badgers
8:00 pm (CST) at Kohl Center (Madison, Wisconsin)
Radio: WCCO 830 AM
TV: Big Ten Network
Liveblog: I’ll be here about half an hour before the game. You should be too.
That headline should tell you all you need to know about tomorrow night’s game. The Gophers don’t win in Madison, or at least they haven’t since they put up 109 points in a 31 point win. Whether it is some sort of mystical force, a well founded fear of serial killers that takes the Gophers off their game, some less than consistent officiating, Bo Ryan’s hair, the menagerie of Minnesotan’s playing for the Badgers, or the fact that over the last decade and a half the Badgers have just been better, the Gopher basketball team just can’t quite get it done across the border. It isn’t just the bad Gophers teams that have struggled. Even the best Gopher team that technically never existed (1996-1997) lost what would have been a heart breaker in the last game of the regular if they weren’t still assured a number one seed. That loss was probably the last time I didn’t associate a game in Madison with overwhelming negativity. Even though this is the best chance Minnesota has had in recent years at winning in the Kohl Center, inevitably some vaguely super-natural force will lead the Badgers to victory. Seriously, don’t be shocked when a Gopher half court shot gets stuck between the rim and the backboard as time expires.
Minnesota comes into Madison coming off the most impressive performance of the still short lived Tubby Smith Era. They made all nine three point attempts and shot an unheard of (at least by the Gophers) 62.5% from the field for the game. Much more importantly, junior college transfers Paul Carter and Devron Bostick exploded, both scoring career highs. The Gophers already had a solid group of ten interchangable above average players. If Carter’s and Bostick’s performances against the Nittany Lions prove not to be a fluke, it will give the Gophers two dynamic players off the bench with potential to take over a game. If the Gophers are going to have a chance.
Wisconsin comes into Thursday’s border battle with a 3-1 record in the Big Ten and 12-4 overall record. Their losses came against a who’s who of college basketball: Connecticut, Marquette, Texas and Purdue. As usual, the Badgers play a tough non-conference schedule. However, they are still in search of a signature win, either in conference or out. They did beat the recently stuggling Michigan Wolverines, but other than that their best win be by four points at home against Penn State. In terms of wins and losses, these are not the Badgers you are used to.
Unfortunately, in plenty of other areas, these are still the same old Badgers. Like always, they play one of the slowest brands of basketball in the entire country, ranking 333rd with 61.2 possessions per game. These aren’t wasted possessions though, and that is what makes them so effective. Even when they hold the ball for seemingly forever, they will score consistently with less the five seconds on the shot clock. It is infuriating to watch, and must be maddening to defend, as the Badgers rank 25 in the country with 1.13 points per possession. As would be expected from a team that takes their time and rarely takes chances, Wisconsin rarely commits turnovers, doing so on 16.9% if their possessions, good for 11th in the country. They don’t offensively rebound particularly well, but they rarely miss their shots., making 37.8% of their three pointers and a respectable 49.5% of their two pointers.
Defensively, the Badgers, like the Gophers, rank right in the middle of the Big Ten giving up .941 points per possession. They don’t force turnovers, but they also don’t commit fouls, ranking 27th in free throw attempts allowed. The worst news for the Gophers may be the Badger proficiency at defensive rebounds. In Minnesota’s last grind it out game, the Gophers were able to stage a comeback because of offensive rebounding. Don’t expect that to happen on Thursday. The Badgers rank fifth in preventing offensive rebounds.
The Badgers are yet another team that could present problems for Minnesota’s “Twin Towers” line up. They don’t start a true center, and forwards Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry can put the ball on the floor. They are very balanced, with two of their top four scorers coming off the bench. The Badgers aren’t the best, but they are still very, very good.
Keys for the Gophers
- Set solid screens. The Gophers are at their best when they are setting screens both on and away from the ball. When they don’t set screens, you get the Iowa game. Wisconsin will play solid defense, and won’t foul, so it will be essential for the Gophers to get open shots. The Badgers will not bail them out.
- Force the Badgers out of their comfort zone. Wisconsin’s half court is one of the best in the country. If the Badger’s are allowed to set up their offense and run down the shot clock, the Gophers will slowly be bled to death. Minnesota will need to press off of made shots, trap in the half court, go zone and man to man, and most importantly keep the Badgers guessing.
- Maintain composure. Minnesota has struggled at Colorado State and at Iowa, both in front of plenty of empty seats. The Kohl Center will be full and loud, and the young Gophers will need to make good decisions and keep the crowd out of the game.
Keys for the Badgers
- Get the crowd into the game early. The Gophers could wilt under pressure.
- Take care of the ball. It is already one of their strong suits, and if Wisconsin takes the same number of shots as the Gophers or more, they will win. Their half court offense is just too good.
- Keep the Gophers off the offensive glass. Same as above, the more shots the Gophers take the better chance they have.
Key Players for the Gophers
- Al Nolen is unquestionably the most important player for the Gophers offense. It will be his primary responsibility to keep the Gophers focused on both ends of the floor.
- Lawrence Westbrook seems to take the most shots when Minnesota’s offense is stagnant, especially at the beginning of games. He will need to make wise choices and big shots when the Gopher offense inevitably grinds to a halt.
- Paul Carter finally combined the energy with the statistics against Penn State. He will be the most athletic player on the court, and he will need use that athleticism for a big put back dunk, huge rebound, or a blocked shot to quiet the crowd.
Key Players for the Badgers
- Trevon Hughes had always been solid point guard and scorer. This year he added a three point shot, making 47% of his shots from behind the three point line.
- Jason Bohannon is who the Gophers hope Blake Hoffarber will eventually become. He used to be exclusively a three point shooter, but now is more than adequate at handling the ball and occasionally creating his own shot.
- Marcus Landry might be 40, but he is still Wisconsin’s leading scorer at nearly 13 points per game.
Prediction: If this game was on a neutral court and the Gophers weren’t ranked, the Gophers might have been able to sneek up on Wisconsin and pull off the win. However, the Gophers are still very young, the game is still in Wisconsin, and the Gophers very much have a target on their head. With better execution and a little Kohl Center voodoo, the Badgers will win 62-58.
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