Breakdown: No.6 Wisconsin vs. Minnesota

Looking to win the outright Big Ten regular season championship, No.6 Wisconsin will take on border-rival Minnesota at Williams Arena tonight. BadgerNation breaks down the matchup and look at the two areas that could prevent Bo Ryan from getting to a second straight Final Four.

No.6 Wisconsin (26-3, 14-2 Big Ten) vs. Minnesota (17-12, 6-10 Big Ten)

Date/Time -Thursday, March 5, 6 p.m. Central

Arena –Williams Arena (14,625)

Television -ESPN (Rece Davis and Fran Fraschilla)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Minnesota leads 102-95 (Minnesota leads 69-31 in Minneapolis)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 63-53, on February 21, 2015 in Madison

Wisconsin Probable Starters

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 12.1 ppg)

15 Sam Dekker (6-9 Junior Forward, 12.9 ppg)

21 Josh Gasser (6-4 Senior Guard, 7.1 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Sophomore Guard, 7.6 ppg)

44 Frank Kaminsky (7-0 Senior Forward, 18.1 ppg)

Off the Bench

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Sophomore Guard, 2.2 ppg)

13 Duje Dukan (6-10 Senior Forward, 4.7 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Sophomore Guard, 2.1 ppg)

Minnesota Probable Starters

1 Andre Hollins (6-2 Senior Guard, 14.7 ppg)

2 Nate Mason (6-1 Freshman Guard, 9.6 ppg)

15 Maurice Walker (6-10 Senior Forward, 11.7 ppg)

20 Charles Buggs (6-9 Sophomore Forward, 3.8 ppg)

24 Joey King (6-9 Junior Forward, 9.1 ppg)

Off the Bench

4 Deandre Mathieu (5-9 Senior Guard, 8.5 ppg)

11 Carlos Morris (6-5 Junior Guard, 11.3 ppg)

55 Elliott Eliason (6-11 Senior Center, 3.2 ppg)

Last Meeting

MADISON - Feeling in control virtually the entire second half, No.5 Wisconsin grinded out another conference victory – this one a 63-53 decision over Minnesota – to give the Badgers their best start in school history and push their winning streak to 10.

With two weeks and four games left in the Big Ten season, Wisconsin (25-2, 13-1 Big Ten) enters its challenging closing stretch with a three game lead over Maryland, Michigan State and Purdue and can clinch a share of the conference title – its first in seven years – with a win at the Terrapins Tuesday.

Senior center Frank Kaminsky took another step toward Big Ten Player of the Year honors with 21 points, but the UW offense – as it has been the routine during conference play - didn’t sag when Kaminsky wasn’t scoring. Registering 12 points in the first 9:44, Kaminsky didn’t score the rest of the half but UW added two points to its halftime lead.

The Gophers (16-12, 5-10) had been killed from 3-point range in their last two losses (giving up a combined 33 3-pointers), but the Badgers shot faked them to death and attacked the paint. Wisconsin shot 53.1 percent (17-for-32) on two-point field goals, scored 28 points in the paint and scored points – 12 in all - off all five first-half offensive rebounds.

Kaminsky finished 9-for-13 shooting, including a 3-pointer with 10:35 remaining (one of only six made 3-pointers for Wisconsin) that pushed the lead to 15 points and put it on cruise control from there.

Bronson Koenig added a career-high 17 points three days after he finished with five points – his lowest as a starter – on 2-of-10 shooting. In the 11 games as a starter, Koenig has reached double figures nine times.

- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Last Time Out

MADISON - Kaminsky scored a season-high 31 points, as No.5 Wisconsin capped off its home season with a 68-61 victory over Michigan State, one of its fiercest rivals, to clinch a share of its first Big Ten regular season title in seven years.

The Badgers (26-4, 14-2 Big Ten) have a chance to win the title outright by winning one of its two final regular season games, starting at Minnesota (17-12, 6-10 Big Ten) Thursday.

“When you put in the work they have and have players that have been as dedicated as these guys are, it’s fun to want (more),” said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who earned his fourth Big Ten regular season title as a head coach. “I just hope that each day they come to practice, they’re working on satisfying the want, and that is being successful, continuing to play as long as we want.”

Wisconsin shot 52.0 percent – its best shooting game since Feb.3 vs. Indiana - and never looked back thanks to a 15-0 run between halves that was driven by post touches.

In the first half of its 59-53 loss to Maryland, UW scored three points over a 13 possession span and relied heavily on the 3-point shot (1-for-11 in the first half). UW didn’t make the same mistake twice.

The Badgers scored 34 points in the paint, including the first eight points of the decisive run and another four from the free throw line as a result of attacking the basket.

“We knew they were a physical team, so we had to get something going inside,” said Kaminsky, whose points were the most he’s ever scored in a conference game. “Against Maryland we settled for a lot of shots and didn’t want that to happen again.”

Not only did he finish 11-for-17 shooting, Kaminsky was 3-for-4 from 3-point range, 6-for-8 from the free throw line, had eight rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals.

“He was ready to play,” Ryan said of Kaminsky. “He was not going to be denied.”

Thanks in part to sophomore Nigel Hayes 14 points and Gasser’s 9, Wisconsin’s starters outscored Michigan State 59-26. Kaminsky and Hayes scored the Badgers’ first 19 points, scored a combined 22 points in the paint and shot 12 of 15 in the opening 20 minutes and 17 of 26 for the game.

“I thought we did a real good job of misdirecting, ball fakes, getting the ball into the post, getting guys in position to score,” said Ryan. “Individually guys still had to make the moves. Nigel had some great counters. Frank, obviously, had some great counters. The two of them in the first half, that was quite a show they put on with their post moves.”

The Spartans entered the week No. 1 in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense (.384) and No. 2 behind UW in scoring defense (61.1), but Michigan State allowed the Badgers to shoot 59.3 percent in the first half.

It was a breath of fresh air considering Wisconsin’s offense has averaged 61.5 points and 42.3 percent over the last six games, including the conference-low 53 points against the Terrapins, after averaging 75.7 points and shooting 50.2 percent in the first nine games of the conference season.

That was just part of the problem for the Spartans. Leading the conference in defensive rebounding percentage, Michigan State was out rebounded 35-24, a season-low. Michigan State didn’t score much either, as Wisconsin held the Spartans’ top three scorers – Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson and Travis Trice (a group averaging 41.3 points) – to 30 points on 11-for-27.

- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Series Notes

Bo Ryan owns a 19-6 (.760) record against Minnesota overall, including a 6-5 record at Williams Arena.

The Badgers have won three in a row against the Gophers and 7 of the last 9 meetings.

Minnesota has won the last two meetings in Minneapolis.

Wisconsin has two players on the roster from Minnesota, junior Jordan Smith (Orono) and freshman Riley Dearring (Minnetonka).

Wisconsin Notes

At 26-3, UW has equaled its best start in program history (26-3 in 2006-07). The Badgers’ 14-2 mark in the Big Ten matches their best-ever start.

Wisconsin is 27-7 (.974) away from home over the last two seasons (11-2 this season), owning the second-most road/neutral wins and third-best win pct. away from home among major conference teams.

With Kaminsky on the floor, the Badgers have out-scored their opponents by 547 points. Without Kaminsky on the court, UW has scored the exact same number of points as its foes. Kaminsky owns a +16.3 plus/minus ratio. UW is just +0.0 plus/minus without Kaminsky.

The Badgers also rank 5th in the nation averaging 1.19 Points Per Possession. That is on pace to equal the highest PPP number of the Bo Ryan era.

Ryan’s 170 Big Ten wins rank 2nd among active coaches (Tom Izzo, 231) and place him ninth in conference history.

Minnesota Notes

As of March 3, the Gophers are third in the nation in steals per game (10.0) and fourth in turnover margin (5.1), leading the Big Ten in those categories. Minnesota is 13th in Division I in assists per game (15.9).

Over the last nine games, senior point guard DeAndre Mathieu has dished 24 assists with just four turnovers, an assist/turnover ratio of +6.0.

In Big Ten play, Hollins is averaging a team high 15.4 points per game (B1G: 6th) while Walker is posting a team-high 7.0 rebounds per game (B1G: 6th) and 1.9 steals per game in B1G games, second in the Big Ten. Hollins's 44 3-pointers in conference play are the most by any Big Ten player, as of March 3.

Hollins is averaging 18.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in his last 11 contests (49.6 FG%, 47.4 3FG%). On Feb. 15 against the Hoosiers, he posted his eighth 20-point game of the season with a team-high 23 points.

Mathieu leads the B1G in steals and senior Maurice Walker is second in field goal shooting (.581). Junior Carlos Morris (1.9) and freshman Nate Mason (1.9) are tied for second in steals.

Prediction

The Frank Kaminsky/Wisconsin love fest was in full force during Izzo’s postgame press conference Sunday afternoon. The longest tenure coach in the conference, with five Final Fours and a national championship under his belt, Izzo praised the senior All-American, his Hall-of-Fame-nominated coach and the supporting cast around them.

Izzo even said the Badgers have the look of a Final Four team, but …

“I think they have some issues they need to deal with, like dribble penetration at times,” he said. “Their depth is a little suspect. I hope they get Traevon Jackson back, because I love him.”

Those comments by Izzo added to what Wisconsin fans already know. Since Jackson’s injury Jan.11, UW’s top three reserves – Brown, Dukan and Showalter – haven’t delivered the same scoring pop off the bench that Koenig was providing.

Dukan is averaging 3.6 points and 1.8 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game; Showalter is averaging 1.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in 8.1 minutes and Brown is averaging 0.9 points and 0.4 rebounds in 5.1 minutes. Dukan and Showalter have seen steady minutes, while Brown’s minutes continue to decrease, in part because of Kaminsky’s dominance and ability not to foul.

In the last five games, the Badgers has scored four points or less off the bench, and the starters have all played at least 30 minutes a game.

As for dribble penetration, quick guards like Green Bay’s Keifer Sykes, Georgetown’s D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Duke’s Tyus Jones, Penn State’s D.J. Newbill (twice), RutgersMyles Mack and Maryland’s Dez Wells are all players who have scored at least 20 points against Wisconsin by getting into the lane and converting at the rim.

While Jackson was on the court for some of those early games, there’s no question the senior will make a difference when he returns. Jackson shot 50 percent (15 of 30) and averaged 11.0 points per game in four Big Ten starts. He had started 84 consecutive games until suffering the injury that has cost him the last 12 games.

Koenig has started the last 13 games (12 in place of Jackson) and is averaging 9.8 points and 2.2 assists per game and is shooting 44.1 percent from three-point range (30 of 68) in Big Ten play. Like the other starters, Koenig is racking up the minutes, averaging 32.4 minutes per game in league play, and Jackson’s return would give him and others time to rest.

The problem is Jackson’s return timeline is still up in the air. After Jackson was adamant that he would play Sunday against the Spartans, Ryan has said that Jackson, who hasn’t been cleared to start practicing, won’t play this week and might not play until the Big Ten tournament.

“I can’t rule anything out because the coaches are the last to know anymore,” said Ryan. “His clearance is maybe two weeks, but who knows?”

While Jackson continues to do his rehab and some light shooting with the training staff to keep himself in shape and somewhat sharp, Ryan isn’t sure how much Jackson will be able to contribute once he finally get the OK.

“We’ve seen players in the league, over the 14 years I’ve been here as the head coach, come back from injuries are about 80 percent when it comes to performance,” said Ryan. “There’s the speed of the game that you get away from. There’s the tentativeness of not making a cut or landing a certain way if it has been a foot or a leg injury. So the confidence factor has to get back in there.

“And we have to find out at what level that will be. He’s got to able to trust himself, trust his movement. Once he gets to that point, then you can go from 80 percent to 100 percent. But you just don’t know how long that’s going to take.”

So for now, the Badgers saunter on without him and take on a Minnesota team trying to build off its best win of the season at Michigan State a week ago. The Gophers are nowhere close to the NCAA bubble, a huge disappointment after winning the NIT last year and returning many key pieces from that team.

The Gophers’ success is determined by the play of Hollins and Walker, as the last two games suggest. In Minnesota’s loss in Madison, the senior duo combined for 10 points on 5-for-16 shooting and zero free throw attempts. In East Lansing, they scored 24 points on 10-for-16 and were each 5-for-6 from the line. A stout defensive effort by the Badgers will be required once again.

The Badgers have lost their last two meetings in Minneapolis, including a disheartening performance last season during the middle of the Badgers losing stretch. Wisconsin is the more talented team, clearly, and still have a lot to play for over the next two weeks despite clinching a share of the conference title.

Win the rebounding battle and slow the Gophers’ senior duo again, Wisconsin wins the Big Ten outright with an 8-point victory.

Worgull's Record: 27-2

Points off Prediction: 202 (7.0 per game)


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