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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Wisconsin

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Gophers can clinch #2 seed in B1G Tournament with win

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Rutgers
“Is that ... is that Reggie Lynch? Oh no.”
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Picture yourself in any other year. The Gophers have backed themselves into a corner, after a three-game conference losing streak they are 7-10 in the Big Ten and squarely on the bubble, having lost four of six. Desperately needing a win, they find themselves on their arch rival’s home court, facing a team that is in it’s own dire straits. There’s that feeling of dread that’s all too familiar. Win or probably go home.

But, hey, not this year! Sure, the Gophers head to Kohl Center to face their arch rival in the regular season finale, but they’re chasing a much different goal. Instead of pursuing one of those elusive final bids to the Big Dance, Minnesota is chasing a more unfamiliar goal - a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament. Win and they grab the #2 seed in the bracket. Lose and they drop all the way to #5. Sometimes that’s how the standings shake out.

But compared to having a heart attack before the game, Minnesota is now playing for seeding purposes, both in the BTT and the NCAA Tournament. It’s a relatively fun position to be in .. not sweating the bubble. A loss in Madison doesn’t change much for their national standing, but a win does wonders and significantly legitimizes their late-season run. A win against Bucky and they could have momentum that could ratchet them all the way to a 4-seed. Utter insanity.

The only thing standing in Minnesota’s way is a reeling Wisconsin team that has lost five of its last six games, and four straight. Comically, each loss has been to unranked teams, and the Badgers have tied a record for most consecutive losses to unranked teams while being a ranked team in the process. The Gophers can help them set the record on Sunday.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Wisconsin Badgers (22-8, 11-6)

What time are they playing?

5 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Kohl Center

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.

We know what we’re getting with Wisconsin. Bronson Koenig looks like a doofus and hits big shots. He’s scored 17 or more points in three straight games after a streak of inconsistency, and has found his three-point stroke.

Ethan Happ has swindled his way to being a Naismith Award finalist, despite either traveling or committing an offensive foul every time he touches the ball. Big Ten officials may give him a pass, but it’ll be a rude awakening in the NCAA Tournament when he can’t hook the defender and make his way to the hoop. Hopefully Reggie Lynch can remind him who the rightful B1G Defensive Player of the Year should be.

Nigel Hayes shoots a lot and smirks a lot. Sometimes he scores 20 points by accident but usually he just runs around being overrated and missing free throws.

Wisconsin, though, is a defensive powerhouse, allowing a conference-low 62 points per game. Minnesota, on the other hand, is tops in the league in FG and 3PT defense.

Keys to the Game

1. Stop Happ

Happ has scored 23 points total over the past three games (somehow considered a top player in the nation), and has been a key cog in Bucky’s recent troubles. He’s also turned into a foul machine, and has committed four or more fouls in seven straight games. He can’t hit a thing from the free throw line, so it’s not actually a bad strategy to send him there. That is, if you can even get past his addiction to hooking defenders on the post. If Reggie Lynch can continue his non-fouling he can make it a long night for Happ. He killed Minnesota in game one but he can absolutely be stopped.

2. Get to the line

Minnesota is great at getting to the free throw line, and attacking the basket is a key part of their offensive approach. The Badgers, on the other hand, are great at preventing teams from getting to the line. What will give? The Gophers can simultaneously get a shallow Wisconsin team in foul trouble while getting to the line where they’ve actually been consistent recently.

Predictions

KenPom is predicting a 6-point win for Wisconsin, 68-62. Can you really bet against the hottest team in the nation right now? I’ll take the Gophers by 3 in a thriller.