Wisconsin is fresh off wrapping up the Big Ten's regular season crown and the top seed and double bye in the conference tournament, but the Badgers still have a lot to play for. There is NCAA tournament seeding at stake, including the possibility of a No. 1 seed, so Bo Ryan's team cannot afford any slip-ups.
Minnesota has lost three of its past four games, but comes into Thursday night's game fresh off a 96-90 overtime win on the road against Michigan State. Despite their disappointing record, the Gophers have a potent offense that allows them to play with anyone.
The only Big Ten game of the night is a matchup of neighboring state rivals. Can the Badgers impose their will as the best team in the conference? Or will the Gophers pull a big upset in The Barn? Let's take a look at tonight's contest in Minneapolis.
Game of the Night
#6 Wisconsin Badgers at Minnesota Golden Gophers - 7 pm ET (ESPN/WatchESPN)
Wisconsin (26-3, 14-2 in Big Ten play) handled business on Senior Day this past Sunday at the Kohl Center, outlasting Michigan State 68-61, and clinching the Big Ten's regular season championship. The Badgers will hold the top seed in next week's conference tournament in Chicago.
"To go out on Senior Day and win a Big Ten title was unbelievable," Wisconsin senior Frank Kaminsky said.
Kaminsky is the headliner every time Wisconsin takes the court. A national player of the year candidate and the likely Big Ten Player of the Year, "Frank the Tank" puts up over 18 points and 8 rebounds a game. His 31 points in the last home game of his career was a season-high.
"Who's that Kaminsky guy?" Ryan asked after the game while glancing at the box score.
Junior Sam Dekker and sophomore Nigel Hayes also average more than 12 points a game for the Badgers, and sophomore Bronson Koenig has played beyond his years while filling in for injured senior point guard Traevon Jackson. Jackson has still not been cleared to play after fracturing his foot nearly two months ago.
For Minnesota (17-12, 6-10), this has been a disappointing season. After winning the NIT a year ago, the Gophers entered Big Ten play with an 11-2 record, but lost their first five conference games. Richard Pitino's squad hasn't been on the floor since last Thursday's OT victory over the Spartans.
Junior Carlos Morris paced the Gophers in East Lansing with 20 points, including a game-tying three-pointer with 2.2 seconds left in regulation. Morris was fouled on the play, but missed the ensuing free throw that would have put the Gophers ahead.
"I was still excited about the 3," Morris said. "I was overwhelmed and missed the free throw."
Of the 18 points Minnesota scored in overtime, 14 came at the free throw line, with senior Andre Hollins hitting five of those. Hollins finished the game with 17 points.
A win on their home floor against the Badgers would be a season-making type of victory for the Gophers. But Pitino knows his team has their work cut out for them.
"They're one of the best teams in the country," he said on Monday's Big Ten coaches conference call. "We know we have to play close to a perfect game to win."
Ryan wants to see his Badgers finish out the regular season strong, and knows bigger things are ahead, thanks to one of the most successful senior classes in program history.
"You just think of the experiences that these guys have had and what some of them have been through, and how they're battling things right now," he said after the Senior Day win. "I couldn't be prouder of a group of seniors than this group."