The Big Ten’s bizarre regular season scheduling continues with No.6 Wisconsin facing Minnesota for the second time in 12 days. While the Badgers were taking care of Michigan State Sunday, the Gophers were at home still enjoying their victory over the Spartans on Feb.26. When the Gophers host Wisconsin Thursday night, Minnesota will have had a week off to prepare.
One more win clinches the outright Big Ten title for Wisconsin, but the Badgers have lost the last two matchups at Williams Arena by an average of nine points, with the last road win coming in 2012. Minnesota (17-12, 6-10) is 4-3 in home Big Ten games this year, compared to Wisconsin being 11-5 in Big Ten road games over the last two years.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as it strives to win against Minnesota, as they play their first game of the final week of Big Ten regular season play.
Lay up: Winning the rebounding battle
Wisconsin has been very good this season when it comes to rebounding the basketball. Only four Big Ten teams have outrebounded Wisconsin this season, but one of those was Minnesota (29-27). The good news is the Badgers have been consistent rebounding the ball in conference road games, averaging 34.1 rebound in seven Big Ten road games.
Minnesota is averaging 33.1 rebounds a game on the season compared to its opponent’s 35.5 rebounds a game. It was a little surprising when the Gophers outrebounded Wisconsin since they have lost the rebounding battle 11 times this year in Big Ten play, part of the reason why they allow 66.6 points per game. In fact, Wisconsin has been the only conference opponent Minnesota has held under 30 rebounds. However, the Gophers have won the rebounding battle in two of the last three games.
Wisconsin will likely have a good chance of consistently finding second-chance opportunities for themselves, as all but four Big Ten teams have recorded double-digit offensive rebounds against Minnesota. Wisconsin, strangely enough, only managed five offensive rebounds in the 63-53 victory. But on the road this year, Wisconsin is averaging 10.1 offensive rebounds and haven’t recorded fewer than eight offensive rebounds a game on the road.
Wisconsin is 20-1 this season when they outrebound its opponent and have reached double-digit second-chance points in four of the past five games.
Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin shoot a good 3-point field goal percentage?
In Wisconsin’s two conference losses, the Badgers haven’t shot well from 3-point range, shooting an average of 25.5 percent on 21.5 attempts. In fact, the Badgers have shot the ball only marginally better in their other Big Ten road games.
Outside of Wisconsin’s 48 percent 3-point performance at Northwestern in the conference road opener, Wisconsin hasn’t shot higher than 37 percent in its other six conference road games. Over the last three road games, Wisconsin has shot 25.8 percent from three on 20.6 attempts. Even though Wisconsin has won five times on the road, shooting a better percentage from 3-point range keeps the defense honest and opens up looks on the interior. The passing for Wisconsin has been very good, which helps open up spacing on the floor and makes it difficult for teams to cover Wisconsin on offense at times.
The challenges Wisconsin presents offensively were evident against Michigan State, pounding the ball in the low post early that caused perimeter jump shots to open up. Wisconsin scored 28 points in the paint in the first matchup and will once again need to run the offense through Nigel Hayes and Frank Kaminsky. Not surprising, the Badgers have found success when they have had success down low.
Wisconsin will have to attack and be aggressive early, like they were against Michigan State on Sunday. On the road this year in Big Ten games, the Badgers are averaging 25.4 points in the paint compared to the 29.3 points they’re averaging at home. With Minnesota having the length to defend Wisconsin in the post, the Badgers will need to be able to make shots from the perimeter to help spread out the Gophers’ defense.
In the first matchup against Minnesota, Wisconsin was able to shoot 35.3 percent from three, right around what Minnesota’s defense is allowing teams to shoot from the perimeter (36.1 percent – 13th in the league). Wisconsin needs to hit a handful of open shots early to open up its offense and take control of the game.
That may mean Kaminsky – the team’s leading 3-point shooter at 41.7 percent - will have to step out to the perimeter at times or the Badgers to get some perimeter buckets from the slumping Josh Gasser (36.6 percent) or Bronson Koenig (38.5 percent).
3-pointer: Repeat defensive performance
The defensive performances Gasser and Kaminsky had against Minnesota were impressive and played a critical role in Wisconsin’s victory in Madison. The two Wisconsin seniors were able to hold the duo of Andre Hollins and Maurice Walker to a combined 10 points on 5-for-16 shooting from the field.
It is unlikely that Gasser will be able to hold Hollins to two points again, but Hollins only averaged 10.6 points a game in three meetings against Wisconsin last year. To be fair, Hollins only played one minute in the first matchup due to an ankle injury. In the other two matchups against Wisconsin he was able to score 22 points and eight points in the second and third game, respectively.
Gasser will need to continue to try and provide pressure on the defensive end, as Hollins leads Minnesota with 14.7 points a game and is shooting 43.8 percent from the field. Hollins has shown that he can drive the ball and is also capable of making shots from the perimeter, as is 42.5 3-point percentage ranks seventh in the Big Ten. Supplying pressure should help keep Hollins from getting into a rhythm on offense.
If Hollins can find driving lanes, it will be up to Kaminsky to defend the rim. Kaminsky blocked three shots against Minnesota and has averaged two blocks over the last four games. If Kaminsky can continue to be a threat on defense, it could force Hollins to rush shots at times.
Outside of trying to help stop Hollins from driving to the rim, Kaminsky will also have the matchup of defending Walker on the post. Although Walker was held to eight points in Madison, he still managed to shoot 50 percent on eight shot attempts. Walker is shooting 58.1 percent from the field, which ranks second in the Big Ten. For Kaminsky, it is about limiting post touches and making sure that Minnesota doesn’t consistently get a chance at easy looks on offense. Kaminsky can’t let Walker consistently get positioning and let him back him down.
While Walker’s points were limited, the senior did grab four of the seven offensive rebounds in the game. Although Minnesota was only able to generate six points off of its second chance opportunities, Wisconsin can’t allow the same kind of opportunities for a team that is shooting 46.3 percent from the field.
With Minnesota averaging 10.7 offensive rebounds a game, Kaminsky and Hayes will have to be ready to play a physical game down low. Through seven Big Ten road games, Wisconsin is allowing opponents to grab an average of 7.8 offensive rebounds a game. If the frontcourt can limit second chances, it should help prevent any three off of a miss shot, as the Gophers shoot 38.3 percent from three this year.
If Gasser and Kaminsky can do their job on defense like they did in the first matchup, it will once again make someone outside of Hollins and Walker to beat Wisconsin.