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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Wisconsin

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It’s Border Battle week, and The Barn will be rockin’.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Wisconsin
Look at these dorks.
Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, so the Gophers are entering the #BorderBattle in much better shape than pretty much anyone expected. Even with two straight conference losses (which weren’t THAT bad, considering they were on the road), they’re still sitting pretty in the overall standings and in Metric Land (read: KenPom and RPI). Yes, the Penn State loss sucked, and as much as we would have loved another road win, the damage they did at Purdue and Northwestern gave them some latitude for games like that.

Concerning, however, is the lack of offense. I mean, it’s bad. 18 points in the second half against Penn State? They have a good defense, but man, that can’t happen.

The bigger question is can they rectify it? Richard PItino is sure as hell trying, and he announced he’ll be starting Akeem Springs in place of Dupree McBrayer for the Wisconsin game. It’s an attempt to inject some life into an offense that has become alarmingly anemic. With 17 points in the first half against Michigan State, that marks two games in a row where they’ve failed to notch more than 20 points in both halves. Ick.

It doesn’t get any easier against the Badgers, who come to town sporting the nation’s 17th-best defense, according to KenPom. And it’s going to take a strong performance to not only overcome a vaunted defense, but also an offense that’s been highly efficient all season.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Wisconsin Badgers (15-3, 4-1)

What time are they playing?

3:30 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Williams Arena

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, BTN

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes. ESPN 1500.

Tell me more about the opponent.

Wisconsin is good again. Fresh off a Sweet Sixteen appearance in last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Badgers returned all five starters and expected another big season. So far that’s holding true, and they’re looking like the team to beat once again in the Big Ten.

They’re a senior-heavy team, with four seniors in the starting lineup, and are led by Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. Along with Ethan Happ, they have three guys averaging 13 or more points per game. Koenig cooled off a bit recently, but his last two games have been very efficient, and he’s found his three-point stroke. Hayes is about as consistent as they come, but hasn’t been quite the Player of the Year candidate so many expected before the season.

They’re 4-1 in the Big Ten and a half game behind Maryland for the top spot. Their lone loss was on the road to Purdue, though they just snuck by Michigan at home in their last game. They haven’t taken a bad loss all year, though their schedule strength leaves something to be desired. In fact, the Gophers would be their best win all season.

Keys to the Game

1. Shoot the ball better

This is obvious, but if the Gophers can’t get by a team like Penn State when they have shooting woes then what chance do they have against a more dangerous Badgers team? You can slice the numbers any way you want, but at the end of the day Minnesota just needs to get the ball in the bucket. Period. 55 points isn’t going to win this game. Nate Mason has been in a funk for four games now, and as one of the team’s offensive leaders, the turnaround has got to start with him.

2. Minimize Nigel Hayes

Wisconsin hasn’t lost much this year, but when they’ve been susceptible it’s because Hayes has been minimized. He does a great job at getting to the line, which is dangerous for a team like the Gophers, who have been prone to foul trouble. He’s gone away from the three-pointer as the season has worn on, and has done his damage closer to the basket, so if Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy can keep things in check down low, Minnesota could throw a wrench into Hayes’ plans. Koenig will do his thing, but Hayes has gotta be stopped.

Predictions

KenPom has this as a narrow victory for the Badgers 65-63. Honestly, I’m not behind the Gophers in this one and don’t like what they’ve been delivering on offense. Wisconsin by 6.