Tuesday's news of longer suspensions for Kevin Dorsey, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer took whatever wind was left in Minnesota's sails and left us with little to look forward to for the rest of the season. Still, with the lone meeting between Bucky and the Gophers happening at Williams Arena Wednesday night, there's still that sliver of hope that maybe our team of walk-ons and misfits can come together for a magical upset for the record books.
We exchanged a Q&A before the game with Phil Mitten of B5Q and attempted to drum up a modicum of enthusiasm for the game. Because, hey, it's still Wisconsin, right? I also provided some answers to Phil for their own Q&A. It was very therapeutic.
1. Let's say you're playing a team with six scholarship players. How would they theoretically hope to beat the Badgers at this point?
Bomb threes, get hot. You can't really push the transition game with no bench, but there will be some big dudes wearing a Gopher uniform Wednesdaynight between Bakary Konate, Jordan Murphy, Charles Buggs and Joey King. Maybe that will give Minnesota some ability to guard Wisconsin without double-teaming the post. At the very least, the Gophers should be selling out for offensive boards and hope the refs give them a Barn-court advantage.
2. Convince us that Greg Gard's first season is not a mirage.
The fact that Gard was right next to Bo Ryan for the last 23 years means he's picked up a few things. Ryan gave Gard credit publicly over the years for everything from offensive innovations to excellent scouting reports. His scouting in particular has shined through lately, as all the players rave about how they always know exactly what an opponent is going to do. With Gard's promotion to associate head coach in 2008, it was clear Ryan felt Gard was ready for a head coaching gig, something other folks clearly saw when he was so adamant about Gard getting a shot this offseason. Perhaps more importantly, Gard knows what it takes to win specifically at Wisconsin and how to recruit here. After all, he dominated his territory in Minnesota for a number of years.
3. What would you say the biggest difference is between Bo and Gard, other than the former's history of stealing all the toys from animated children at Christmas?
Besides his interview style? Gard is more flexible. He's already broken the "two fouls and you're done for the half" rule several times. Gard also doesn't have as quick of a hook with turnovers (although I'm willing to bet his leash gets very short again next year). An important element in Wisconsin's turnaround was Gard trusting his younger reserves to play through mistakes, thus establishing a hint of a dependable bench. Plus, no one has compared Gard to the devil yet.
4. Seriously, how far do you expect this team to go in the tournament?
With how hot the Badgers are at this moment, this looks like a Sweet 16 team. Their defense and three-point shooting are coming together at the right time. But this is certainly a flawed team, so that could change in a hurry. Like my advice to the team in question one, if Wisconsin runs into an opponent that can play Hayes and Happ straight up on the block (see Michigan State's Deyonta Davis and Matt Costello two weeks ago), that is a good start to stopping the Badgers. The Badgers have always been pretty vulnerable to really quick guards on dribble penetration too. It'll come down to matchups, as always. Even an unexpected early exist cannot take away from the wild ride that was this Big Ten season, though.
5. Where does #DorseyGate rank in your all-time favorite Gopher scandals?
The scandals west of the Mississippi sure have taken a lascivious turn, haven't they? However, the academic fraud perpetrated under Clem Haskins is an all-time classic. Being stripped of a Final Four has more staying power than "Late Night with Norwood Teague." #DorseyGate can't beat either of those. Ugh, I'm happy to not have to deal with any of them.
6. We're in desperate need of a pick-me-up. What is one thing about Minnesota's fan base that makes you a little jealous?
You were sooo close to generating some pity from a hated rival, and then I got to this question...
I suppose it might be fun to see what animal costumes the students cook up at Williams Arena. That seems to be a full-fledged thing now. But really the best thing going for the Minnesota fan base is having no expectations. Seriously. Wisconsin's terrible start to the season has made everything that came afterwards twice as enjoyable. So, you got that going for you next year ... er, maybe a few years down the road. When Pitino's gone.