Despite the disastrous start to the week for Wisconsin they are still in the thick of the hunt for the Big Ten title. However, up next is their most bitter of rivals – the Minnesota… errr Eastern Dakota University Golden Gophs. They're coming in hungry for a victory after losing their last three games in a row. So, this could be one of the most important games in recent memory in the Border Battle series. Tip for this one is scheduled for 1pm central and can be seen on the Big Ten Network.
For seniors Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren this is the last chance for the Minnesota natives to play their home state team at their home – the Kohl Center. Winning over their home state team at home is something they've gotten used to as the Badgers own wins in 14 of their last 15 matchups in Madison. The series record stands at 100-91 in favor of the Gophs, but it's a different story in Madison where the Badgers hold an all-time advantage of 59-33.
As we said, Minnesota comes in as losers of their last three games and while two of them can be understood (Indiana and Michigan while both were ranked No. 5), the fiasco that was their game against Northwestern can't be. They lost 55-48 and Wisconsin fans should be well versed in how they lost that last game.
In fact the similarities are very eerie to say the least. The Gophs shot a whole 33.3% for the game and were 7-17 from the free throw line (yes, I know…. someone could actually shoot worse than Wisconsin from the FT line?). There was also an abundance of turnovers, led by point guard Andre Hollins who committed a career high 7 of the teams 15 turnovers.
That one should have the Badgers licking their chops alone. However, this is a team that has been more than capable of scoring in bunches and playing some really good basketball. Dre Hollins is the teams leading scorer, averaging 13.8 points per game and a team best 3.7 assists per game.
He is far from their only weapon though and that's what makes this team really dangerous. Down low there is the combination of Rodney Williams (12.1ppg, 5.6rpg) and Trevor Mbakwe (9.9ppg, 8.6rpg) who are both more than capable of pulling off a double double.
The other issue is if you stop them down low they also have two guards that can show you up as well in Austin Hollins (11.2ppg) and Joe Coleman (10.5ppg). So, for teams that don't play good team defense they create a lot of problems – just ask Michigan State how difficult this team is to play against.
Everyone will tell you it's down low that will be the key to this one, but I'm taking a different tact and I'm going to say it's the point guard battle that will matter the most. Both of these teams play their best basketball when their point guards are involved on both ends of the floor. Last time out Traevon Jackson didn't quite pass the eye test on either end of the floor for me and that's a bit worrisome. If Jackson can provide some decent offense and play his usually sound defense it'll make life difficult for Dre Hollins and thuse the Gophs in general. If not, well, it could be a long one for the Cardinal and White.
Prediction: Wisconsin 65, Minnesota 63
I see this game being very, VERY closely fought between two teams that need this win in the worst possible way if they are to have a chance at staying in the conference title race and possibly the upper-half of the conference as well. It's as simple as this – losing at home is just not something Wisconsin does very often and after the embarrassing performance in a game they should've won I expect them to fight back well. However, they are playing against a team that's going to fight back after a bad performance of their own. That all adds up to one classic basketball game in this Border Battle.