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Gophers @ Badgers - TDG Preview

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Bucky_badger_mediumMinnesota has not won a game in Madison since 1994!  Yes, even that great Final Four team 0-0 team in 1996-97 lost in Madison to end the regular season.  The statement that could be made with a win here is much bigger than boosting the NCAA resume. 

These teams are very similar.  Both score just over 1.1 points per possession while giving up .94 per possession.  Both typically play at a slower pace with Minnesota averaging 65 possessions per game and Wisconsin averaging just 61 (333rd in the country).  Both are very well coached, play great defense and play well together on offense.

This should be a lot of fun and more than anything I'm looking forward to two specific match ups.

F Damian Johnson vs. F Marcus Landry.

Landry is Wisconsin's leading scorer and Johnson is our best defender.  Typically this would be a great thing for the Gophers.  Johnson has done a fine job this year guarding some great opponents, highlighted by holding Michigan State's Raymar Morgan to just 10 points in the Gopher loss.  A year ago Landry averaged just 11.5 points and 3 points against Minnesota.  If Johnson can keep Landry around those numbers that will bode well for the Gophers.

PG Al Nolen vs. PG Trevon Hughes

Another great PG match up for Nolen. 

Unlike Landry, Hughes had a couple big games agasint minnesota last year.  In the Barn he put up 20 points to go with three assists and six steals.  In Madison he only scored 11 but he contributed with six rebounds and zero turnovers.  Nolen will need to get on Hughes from the opening tip. Hughes has 12 of his 23 turnovers in Wisconsin's four losses. 

After those individual match ups there are a couple other key group match ups that will be crucial to the Gopher's winning.

Bench vs. Bench

I think our bench strength is way overplayed.  Just because we play a lot of guys and have such balanced scoring does not mean our bench is necessarily better than another teams.  But in Madison they are going to have to be better than the Badgers. 

Wisconsin doesn't play a ton of guys and they can get away with it with their style of play not being all that taxing on a player.  Being better than their bench really means we need to shut down Jon Leuer.  He is capable of leading the Badgers is scoring and we need to keep him below his 9.8 ppg.

We need our bench to be very similar to what it was against Penn State.  If we can bring in Bostick, Carter, Hoffarber and Joseph off the bench and not lose a step we can wear down this thin Badger team.  They don't need to combine for 40 again but they need to shoot well and need to defend great.

Bostick may be primed for a great game.  Lost in the rivalry and as people look at the Minnesota kids playing for Wisconsin, is the fact that Bostick is a Wisconsin kid playing for the Gophers.  He led his high school team to back-to-back state championships but was never offered by the Badgers.  Needless to say, he's looking forward to this game.

Win the Paint

Can Sampson and Iverson hold their own in the paint on the road?  Madison is a tough place to play and theyse guys are obviously freshmen.  There is no reason that they shouldn't be able to score in the paint.  Wisconsin will pack the paint defensively but if they can get open on the block they really should be able to either score or kick to a shooter.

For Wisconsin Landry is very athletic inside but no other Badger is really capable of dominating the paint on either end of the court. 

I asked the new Wisconsin blog Bucky's 5th Quarter a few questions and here was what he had to say...

1.  The Badgers have had a run of good teams in recent years.  How does this team compare to the Badgers of the last two or three seasons.
This team is good, but they won't be winning 30 games like the previous two teams did. It's still hard to gauge how good they will be, but it's looking like they will be a No. 6 or 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament rather than a No. 2 or 3 seed, as in past years.
The main difference is the reliance on youth. Last year's team had to overcome the losses of it's two best scorers, Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor, but it was able to form a balanced scoring attack with two seniors (Brian Butch and Michael Flowers) stepping up their averages, combined with two sophomore guards (Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon) getting full playing time. This year you have another two (actually even three) sophomores entering the mix in Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz, but the difference is that Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft aren't the guys to step up their offensive game like Butch and Flowers did a year ago. Plus, the loss of Flowers has hurt the defense.
2.  Each year there are low expectations for what is expected to come out of Madison but every year Bo Ryan's teams surpass.  Is this team going to surpass the low expectations or will they once again finish at or near the top of the Big Ten?
The reality is that this team isn't much worse than last year's team, which greatly benefitted from a down year for the conference. Going 8-1 on the road in Big Ten play, like the Badgers did last season, isn't realistic. As a result, Wisconsin is more likely to finish third or fourth in the conference.
3.  I'm turning the coach question back on you.  Assume both are coaching for your favorite school...who would you most want to play for, Tubby or Bo? 
Well the question was, who would I want to play for? I would probably want to play for Tubby Smith before I wanted to play for Bo Ryan. Smith's system is faster, more exciting and the chances of getting my points would be a lot higher. Now, if you asked me who I would want in charge of my program, I'm going with Bo. His system might not be flashy, but it consistently wins games. Every program is going to have down years, but Bo's system allows for those down years to still be successful (i.e. capitalizing on the Big Ten Championship in 2008 when it was a down year for the whole conference).
4.  As a Badger fan, does this game make you nervous?  What is the percent chance that Wisconsin loses two consecutive home games?
This game definitely makes me nervous. Streaks and records are meant to be broken. The Gophers haven't won in Madison since 1994 and this is definitely their best chance in recent years. And if the Badgers lose this one, then there is a great chance that they could lose two consecutive home games, with Purdue coming in next. It's obvious that the Boilermakers length bothers Wisconsin's guards and Purdue won at the Kohl Center last year with essentially the same team. We have to remember, however, that Wisconsin goes on the road for two straight road games in between the Gophers and Boilers. A lot can happen in two weeks.
5.  What will have to go right for MN (or wrong for Wis) if the Gophers are going to come away with a win?
Basically the Gophers have to continue playing like the calm, mature team they apparently are. I think most people thought that Minnesota was a year away from this kind of play and this is a true test for a team that hasn't exactly been in any tough road environments this season. That's the biggest edge that Wisconsin has, and it might be a big enough edge to win the game. It might come down to the play of Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III. For the first time in a long time, it's the Gophers with the tall guys down low, not Wisconsin. But can they defend Landry and Leuer? If they do, the Gophers win.

Predictions

As usual I am optimistic about the Gopher's chances.  Part of what makes me optimisic is that we are coming off our most complete and most impressive game of the year.  Penn State was a home game and they are not Wisconsin but we executed better than I have seen in years and certain guys seem to be poised to step up in meaningful ways (Bostick and Carter).  I don't see either team capable of pulling away with a 15 point win.

I have no problem believing that not only we can win but we will.  Gophers win 64-59.