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Wisconsin Badgers Basketball Preview: Minnesota 2.0 edition

The Basics:

When: Sunday, March 5; 5pm CT
Where: Madison, Wis.; Kohl Center (17,287)
Channel: BTN
Spread: Wisconsin -6.5
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads 96-94 *vacated games excluded
Last Meeting: UW won, 78-76 (ot), on Jan. 21, 2017 (in Minneapolis, Minn.)

Senior Day is upon the University of Wisconsin, and it is a group that has done a whole lot of winning throughout their careers. However, UW comes in to this game needing a win in the worst possible way.

Iowa came in to the Kohl Center and got a victory on Thursday. It was a loss that eliminated Wisconsin from Big Ten regular season title contention, and the fifth loss in the last six games for the Badgers. Clearly something isn’t going right internally for this team, as Gard has thrown in the kitchen sink lately looking to get UW back on track.

No one seems to want to seize the opportunity given to players off the bench or as starters though. Instead, UW has found new and frustrating ways to drop games.

Meanwhile, Minnesota comes in to the game riding an eight-game win streak and playing some of the best basketball in the Big Ten right now. The Gophers have scored under 70 points just once in the win streak and are averaging 82.1 points per game as well. However, this will be the Gophers’ first time back to the Kohl Center since a 63-53 Wisconsin win in 2015. UW has played the last three games on the road in this series, winning all three of them.

Wisconsin’s four senior starters are likely to be jacked up for this game, but can they play consistent enough basketball to win their final game at the Kohl Center?

 

The Lineups:

Minnesota Gophers (23-7, 11-6)

G Nate Mason — Jr. 6-2, 190 (15.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 5.3 apg)
G Akeem Springs — Sr. 6-4, 220 (9.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.4 apg)
G Amir Coffey — Fr. 6-8, 195 (12.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.1 apg)
F Jordan Murphy — So. 6-6, 240 (11.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 0.8 apg)
C Reggie Lynch — Jr. 6-10, 260 (8.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 0.5 apg)

No. 22 Wisconsin Badgers (22-8, 11-6 B1G)

G Bronson Koenig — Sr. 6-3, 190 (14.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.9 apg)
G Zak Showalter — Sr. 6-3, 185 (8.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.7 apg)
F Nigel Hayes Sr. 6-8, 240 (13.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.9 apg)
F Vitto Brown Sr. 6-8, 235 (6.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.9 apg)
C Ethan Happ — So. 6-10, 280 (14.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.8 apg)

Matchup to Watch: Ethan Happ vs. Reggie Lynch

While plenty of attention will be paid to what the four senior starters will do for the Badgers in their last game at the Kohl Center, reality is it will come down to the only non-senior starter on the floor. Ethan Happ has struggled a ton as of late, averaging just 12.3 points per game in the last six games.

In fact, he’s scored in double figures in just three of the last seven games for the Badgers overall. He’ll be facing one of the tougher challengers up front in Reggie Lynch, who is one of the best rebounders in the conference as well. Can Happ regain the form that allowed him to poor in a then season high 28 points up in Minneapolis the last time these two teams met?

Jordan Murphy has had no issues with is production as of late, scoring in double figures in each of the last seven games for the Gophers. He is averaging 17.6 points per game during the last seven games as well.

Something is going to have to give up front between these two versatile big men. Can Happ finally get back on track and allow the Badgers to play through him consistently? If so, this could be UW getting back on track.

3 Numbers to Know:

— 6: That is Wisconsin’s current win streak over the Gophers. Richard Pitino hasn’t exactly had a lot fun coaching against the University of Wisconsin, owning a 1-6 overall record against the Badgers, with the lone win coming in the first meeting of the 2013-14 season. However, Wisconsin has won every matchup between these two teams since that matchup.

— 110: That is the number of wins for the senior class at Wisconsin. Currently this class sits third in the standings for most wins as a class, but a win against Minnesota would give them a tie for second at 111. The all-time mark is 115 for the 2013-16 class, meaning this group would have to rattle off six wins to tie that mark and would have to reach the Big Ten championship game along with the Elite 8 to get the top mark in school history.

— 5 of 6: That is the losing streak the Badgers are currently on. Ironically, the last time UW lost 5 of 6 games they went on to reach the Final Four back in 2014. However, that losing streak was followed up by Wisconsin ripping off eight wins in a row before dropping a game to Nebraska to end the season 12-6 in Big Ten play.

Prediction

It is hard to see this Badgers team playing the way it needs to to win this type of matchup. Minnesota’s athleticism and length on the defensive end of the court is scary. The Gophers have forced an average of 12.2 turnovers per game.

Wisconsin hasn’t done well dealing with pressure from opposing defenses as of late, and that is exactly what Minnesota would love to do.

If Ethan Happ can get going early on offensively, perhaps this one goes to the Badgers. However, look for the red-hot Gophers, who have come in winning eight in a row to edge out the Badgers and ruin senior night.

Expect Wisconsin to go on a prolonged shooting drought in the first half, dig themselves a hole they can’t get out of despite finding the shooting touch in the second half. It has been this team’s m.o. for a long time, and expecting that to stop against a team like Minnesota isn’t a good bet.

Minnesota 74, Wisconsin 64

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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