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Playing for pride? Gophers head to Wisconsin as season crumbles

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Qualifying for NIT now a top priority

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Minnesota David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

So that’s how it ends, huh? The Gophers blew a 17-point lead to Maryland, the conference’s top team, en route to a painful, debilitating loss that likely extinguishes any hope the team had at landing at at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. The odds were still long for them trying to make it to the Big Dance and they still needed additional wins down the stretch, but leaving another huge opportunity on the floor was tough to handle. Despite impressive supporting metrics, a strong schedule and a handful of key wins, the Gophers haven’t racked up nearly enough victories to remain a viable bubble candidate and now have simply run out of opportunities to pad their resume.

It’s not surprising, considering that Minnesota has now dropped three straight home games in impressively disappointing fashion, and have left winnable opportunities on the table for the entire season. Home wins over Iowa, Indiana and Maryland would have significantly changed the trajectory of the season.

Now their only path to the tournament is likely an odds-defying run through the Big Ten Tournament to secure the auto bid. Short of that, the team at least needs to end up at .500 to even qualify for the NIT, which is looking more and more uncertain.

The fun continues as the Gophers head to the Kohl Center to face a hot Wisconsin team. We’ll see which team shows up.

Essentials:

Opponent:

Wisconsin Badgers (11-6, 18-10)

Date and Time:

Sunday, March 1 @ 5:30 p.m. CT

Location:

Kohl Center (Madison, WI)

TV:

BTN

Radio:

KTLK 103.5-FM/1130-AM

Tell me more about the opponent.

Since the Gophers beat Bucky in Minneapolis on Feb. 5 the Badgers have ripped off five straight wins against the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Rutgers. Once again, Wisconsin is in the mix at the top of the conference and is in a four-way tie for second place.

Bucky has been nearly unbeatable at home and are 13-1 this year in the Kohl Center, which isn’t surprising considering the amount of home cooking they tend to get.

Nate Reuvers leads a duo of Badger double-digit scorers with 13.3 points per game, and is also the team’s leading shot blocker averaging two blocks per game. They’ve done well without Kobe King, who left the team midseason and has since announced his intention to transfer to Nebraska. The Keebler Elf has been up and down all season, though he padded his averages with an unusually good game against the Cornhuskers but has largely been ineffective.

Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in 3-pointers made per game (8.7) as well as free throw percentage (76.9), despite ranking second to last in free throw attempts. They are also the Big Ten leader in fewest turnovers per game (10.2), ranking sixth in the nation in that category.

Predictions

Will this team still have the energy to get up for a date with Wisconsin after such a heartbreaking loss? I’m skeptical and am taking the Badgers by five.