After Minnesota outlasted Penn State 63-58 last night, it sets up a match up with Wisconsin at 6:30 PM EST tonight. The win moves the Gophers to 20-12 and squarely on the bubble of all bubbles, giving them extra incentive to beat an excellent Wisconsin. Minnesota has played the Badgers well in both games this season, winning the first game at The Barn by 13 and losing a tough one in Madison by 8. Let's break down what each team needs to do to win:
Minnesota: Austin Hollins had it going last night, shooting 6-12 and 4-7 from 3 for 18 points. If Minnesota has any shot at winning today, Hollins has to be one of the guys that plays extremely well. He is a great scorer and Wisconsin does not have great perimeter defenders, so Hollins must take advantage of this. Another matchup that Minnesota should try to exploit is using Eliott Eliason and Mo Walker to bang inside against a Wisconsin front court that has minimum depth. In their first matchup, Mo Walker went for 18 points, and Bo Ryan opted for Nigel Hayes for the majority of the minutes over first team All B1G performer Frank Kaminsky. While Kaminsky is an excellent player, he is not the best interior defender, and this could pose a slight issue in this game and other games in the NCAA tournament.
Wisconsin: The Badgers are one of the hottest teams in the country and are arguably playing their best basketball at the right time. Though they did lose their final B1G game at the new fortress that is Nebraska (the Huskers were 15-1 at home), they did not play close to their best and almost found a way to win. It will be interesting to see whether Bo Ryan will treat this tournament as more of a tune-up for the NCAA tournament, or if he plays his regular starters and rotation players as if this were a mini-NCAA tournament. If Ryan does choose to take the tournament seriously, he knows that he has a tough first matchup on his hands. The Gophers are bigger and arguably tougher than the Badgers, but Wisconsin has an excellent shooting team. In the last matchup between these two teams, the Badgers shot 36 free throws, making 30 of them and caused Richard Pitino to mix and match his lineup and go deeper into his bench than he wanted to. Nigel Hayes should have a pretty good matchup against a mediocre 3/4 for Minnesota, and that could be a big factor.
Prediction: Wisconsin is one of the few teams that has been able to play any style of basketball this season. They have won games by scoring in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80, 90s, and 100s, and have had almost a week of rest since their tough loss at Nebraska. Expect Minnesota to make a small run at the beginning, but not be able to have enough momentum to sustain it for 40 minutes. Final score: Wisconsin 74, Minnesota 66.