Wisconsin's basketball rivalries run deep in the Big Ten, but no rivalry tops what takes place between the Badgers and the Gophs of Eastern Dakota. On Wednesday night the rivalry will be played for the 194th time, when UW and the Gophs get together at 8pm CT on BTN.
So enjoy a closer look at Eastern Dakota from the folks who know it best. Oh, and make sure you give them a follow on Twitter (@FromTheBarn) before tonight's matchup.
MTB: Richard Pitino seems to have energized the players and the fanbase, but what is different about how Minnesota plays?
FTB: It might not be the most analytic answer, but the biggest difference is that the Gophers are finally fun again. The players have a lot more freedom to attack the basket, the coaching staff acknowledges the three-pointer exists, and there is a lot more energy, especially on defense. Some of the same old problems continue. There are way too many turnovers and not enough defensive rebounds. There are some new problems too, like giving up easy baskets off the press and some shot selections that needs a bit of self-censorship. Those new problems are fun though, compared to an inability to take or make a shot farther than five feet out, or complete befuddlement against basic zone defenses.
MTB: Which one of the Hollins’ is more important to Gophers success?
FTB: I promise I'm not trying to weasel my way out of answering your question, but both Hollinses are equally but differently important. Andre Hollins is important to provide a healthy baseline for the team. Even on rough shooting nights, he can typically scrape together 10-12 points and a few assists. In the occasional game when he struggled to maintain even that level of production, the Gophers are in deep trouble, and it doesn't really matter what Austin Hollins does. For the Gophers to take that next step as a team, they need Austin Hollins to play well. If Austin and Andre are playing well, the Gophers are capable of beating just about anyone. The only problem is that Austin is very streaky, and tends to have more bad games than good games, and the bad games are starting to pile up. The most important Hollins for the Gophers to be good is Andre. The most important Hollins for the Gophers to be better than good is Austin.
MTB: Minnesota owns just one win against a Top 25 team from a power conference and that was OSU in the middle of its meltdown. Just where is this team right now?
FTB: The Gophers are a bubble team, or slightly better than a bubble team, meaning they are capable of beating ranked teams, but aren't quite good enough to do it consistently. It is important to remember that Gophers have played only four ranked teams (Michigan wasn't ranked earlier this season). The losses were to still undefeated Syracuse on a neutral court, an overtime loss at Michigan State, and the most recent road loss at Iowa. Bubble teams, by definition, can't beat ranked teams away from home. If they could they would be considered safe to make the tournament.
MTB: This Deandre Mathieu character…what’s he all about? Seriously, this is a guy no Badger fan was aware even existed before this year and he’s 3rd on the team in scoring already.
FTB: Little Dre, as he known, is about speed, speed, and more speed. He is 5'9'' according to the most generous of tape measures, which leaves Andre Hollins, and all 6'2'' of him, as Big Dre. Mathieu has been something of a revelation on both ends of the court. The offense runs through him. He has the ability to get to the basket in often acrobatic fashion, and opens up a lot of room for Gopher shooters. On defense, he guards the ball handler on the press. The great thing is that he'll be a much better player as his decision making improves. He hasn't quite figured out how to stay out of trouble when driving the lane, and shooting lay-ups over players a foot taller than he is doesn't always turn out well. On defense, he sometimes loses his guy trying for a steal when playing solid defense would have been the better decision. He'll figure it out though. Still, his time with the team has been very impressive, especially for a guy who played only a few minutes per game as a walk-on at Morehead State a couple years ago.
MTB: Can Minnesota win if it doesn’t force turnovers? Up until Saturday the Badgers were pretty good at not doing that.
FTB: Turnovers certainly help, but the Gophers have played a couple of their better games when they couldn't force turnovers. They somehow played Michigan State to overtime despite forcing turnovers on only 9.6% of possessions. They played Syracuse to a stand still for 38 minutes and forced turnovers on only 15.4% of possessions. What the Gophers can't afford to do is give up extra opportunities. If they can't force turnovers, they can survive with good defensive rebounding. If they can't rebound defensively, forcing turnovers becomes more important. Against the Hawkeyes, they couldn't rebound on defense or force turnovers, and the Hawkeyes had the best offensive performance of any Gopher opponent.
MTB: Prediction & why?
FTB: I think is a true toss-up and I have no idea who is going to win. Wisconsin may play a little faster this year (20th slowest in the country on offense instead of absolute slowest) so it will be interesting to see how well they handle a potentially more frenetic pace on the road. Of course, the Gophers haven't played a team as efficient or careful with the ball as the Badgers. If there is one player who decides the outcome, it will be Austin Hollins. If he can break out of his slump the Gophers have a great chance to win. if he struggles like he has been, the Gophers won't have enough firepower to keep up.
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