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Golden Gophers vs. Wisconsin Badgers to open the Big Ten season - OPEN THREAD

The Big Ten season is here and we get to kick it off with probably my favorite game of the year, a trip to Madison to face the Badgers in the Kohl Center.

Game Time: 6:00
Radio: WCCO, Gopher radio network, or Badger radio network

Pos #13 - Minnesota Pnt/Gm Pnt/Gm #24 - Wisconsin Badgers Pos
PG Al Nolen 9.0
15.4 Jordan Taylor
G Blake Hoffarber 13.9 6.7 Josh Gasser
F Rodney Williams 6.4
5.9 Mike Bruesewitz
F Trevor Mbakwe 13.3
19.8 Jon Leuer
C Ralph Sampson III 11.5 7.6 Keaton Nankivil
Bench Devoe Joseph 11.8 3.8 Tim Jarmusz
Bench Colton Iverson
7.0 4.0 Ryan Evans
Bench Austin Hollins
4.4 Jared Berggren

There is talk that Tubby will mess with the starting lineup tonight going with a three-guard lineup and bring Mbakwe off the bench. Interesting theory and something we may see in another game but with the 6-10 Leuer starting at PF for the Badgers I'm sure we'd rather see Mbakwe defending him instead of Williams. And on top of that Williams has had arguably his two best games as a Gopher in his last two games. I think you have to leave him at SF and see what Mbakwe can do guarding Leuer. The big fear is that Trevor gets into early foul trouble again but I would argue Wisconsin should be just as worried that Leuer will get himself into foul trouble guarding Mbakwe.

This is potentially a really big game for Big Ten standings and tournament seeding as this is the only time we face the Badgers this year and we are likely fighting for a top 4 or 5 finish in the league. As most of you know the Gophers do have a three-game win streak over Wisconsin and Tubby will look to extend his dominance over Bo Ryan again tonight.

KenPom Efficiency Stats Minnesota (55) Wisconsin (12)
Record 11-1 10-2
Pnt / Poss 1.098 (47) 1.165 (11)
Def Pnt / Poss 0.934 0.899 (32)
Off eFG% 53.0% (49) 53.1% (43)
Def eFG% 46.3% 43.9% (39)
Off Reb % 39.4% (17) 39.8% (13)
Def Reb % 68.3% 72.0% (32)
TO % 20.7% 15.3% (3)

So those numbers look really bad for the Gophers. In the major categories that I am choosing to show the Badgers rank top 50 in all of them. Thus the reason KenPom predicts a Badger win with 85% certainty, the only other opponent with greater certainty is both Ohio State games. The one thing Gopher fans cling to, especially when looking at these kind of numbers, is that our stats include 5 games without Al Nolen who contributes to most of those categories in a significant way. Will he be enough? I'd like to think so but Wisconsin is pretty efficient and is doing the necessary things to win games, especially home games.

What is it going to take for the Gophers to win?

1 - Perimeter Defense - First and foremost we need to improve our perimeter defense, dramatically. The Badgers have attempted and made more threes than any other Big Ten team this year. If we allow them to have open looks from behind the arc they will kill us. It all starts with Nolen defending Taylor. He has to control him defensively not allowing him easy penetration and kick opportunities to Leuer and anyone else expected to be wide open in that scenario. Taylor also leads the Big Ten in assist to turnover ratio, if Nolen can force a few extra turnovers (like he is capable of doing) then we can pick up some gift baskets which go a LONG way towards picking up the W.

2 - John Leuer vs. Trevor Mbakwe - this is going to be a great matchup. The interesting thing here is the opportunity for foul trouble with either one of these guys. Mbakwe's tendency to be aggressive may get him a couple cheap fouls on the crafty Leuer. But on the other end of the floor Mbakwe may get Leuer to pick a couple up in the lane as he is one of the most aggressive players in the league when attacking the basket.

3 - Can we establish Lane? - Can we claim the Kohl Center's lanes as our own and dominate points in the paint? When we do that opens up our perimeter and really allows our offense to operate efficiently. But we have struggled to establish this in the past and it seems to depend on which Ralph Sampson decides to show up (same can be said for Iverson).

I cannot wait, I'm leaving work early enough to be on my couch for tip-off and nothing is interrupting me tonight.