I’m trying to figure out the right emoji to illustrate how I feel about the Gophers right now. I think it’s the monacle one. I’m intrigued but skeptical. Minnesota is on an unexpected three-game winning streak that has seen them rip off wins against Saint Louis, #4 Iowa and #17 Michigan State. Those are incredible, establishing wins. We’ve also seen them nearly lose to Loyola Marymount and get run out of the gym by Illinois. Who is the real team here?
I suppose a small dose of optimism is warranted. After all, they completely undressed Michigan State on Monday, beating the Spartans by the widest margin in team history and never trailed. How many times have we been able to say that about this team under Richard Pitino against Michigan State? The trend is definitely headed in the right direction, and foundational elements like defense, free throw shooting and minimizing turnovers give the team a high floor.
Scoring consistently is another story, and underpins the skepticism here. Marcus Carr is a beast, no doubt about that, and Liam Robbins has turned into the true weapon we hoped for. However, Gabe Kalscheur and Both Gach have been MIA, and it’s a rotating cast of characters who pick up the slack on any given night. The depth is a godsend, but the unpredictability of the remaining starters adds uncertainly on any given night, especially when we know that cold shooting can doom them to a loss.
The early season slog gets tougher on Thursday as the Gophers head to Madison for their lone meeting with the Badgers, who are ranked 6th in the country but coming off a home loss to unranked Maryland. It’s a good Wisconsin team, but Minnesota has shown they can hang with anyone. A win at Kohl Center probably vaults them into the top 10. Imagine that.
Wisconsin Badgers (8-2, 2-1)
Date and Time:
Thursday, Dec. 31 @ 3:30 p.m. CT
Kohl Center (Madison, Wis.)
Tell me more about the opponent.
If you like metrics the Badgers have those up the wazoo. They have the 9th most efficient offense and the 6th most efficient defense according to KenPom. They slow the ball down, don’t turn the ball over and hit their threes. In fact, they have the fourth-lowest turnover percentage in the nation.
Have the Badgers been truly tested this season? They’ve beaten the likes of Louisville and Michigan State but they’ve also dropped games to Marquette and now Maryland, though they’ve been literally rolling over opponents in their wins and beat Louisville by nearly 40 points.
D’Mitrik Trice leads the way in scoring, averaging 14 ppg, and has been on fire the past two games, notching 25 and 29 points, respectively. Micah Potter is right behind him, averaging 12 ppg to go along with 7 rpg, while Brad Davison is notching 10.6 ppg when he isn’t flopping or hitting people in the nuts. Also, did you know Davison is listed at 6’4? That is patently ridiculous. There is no way that guy is that tall. He must wear shoe lifts on picture day.
The Badgers are great at hitting free throws, but Minnesota has done a much better job at getting to the line at a better rate this year, which has become core to their offense.
The Gophers have done a lot of surprising lately, and they’ve quickly turned this season from long-shot to promising. Taking down the Badgers in Madison would be another notch in the belt and yet another victory that no one is expecting.
Pitino hasn’t been great against Wisconsin and the Gophers haven’t yet won on the road this year, but beating Wisconsin would elevate the season to a different level.
It’s not a normal year, and home-court advantage isn’t what it used to be but it’s still a top-10 Wisconsin team at home. I think the Gophers fall back to Earth temporarily and drop this one by six.