Date/Time – Wednesday, March 2, 8 p.m. central
Arena – Williams Arena (14,625)
Television – Big Ten Network (Dave Revsine and Jon Crispin)
Radio – Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)
Series – Minnesota leads 102-96 (Minnesota leads 69-52 in Minneapolis)
Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 76-63, on March 5, 2015, in Minneapolis
WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS
3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Junior Guard, 7.6 ppg)
10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Junior Forward, 16.4 ppg)
22 Ethan Happ (6-9 Freshman Forward, 11.9 ppg)
24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Junior Guard, 13.7 ppg)
30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Junior Forward, 9.4 ppg)
OFF THE BENCH
11 Jordan Hill (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 3.0 ppg)
15 Charlie Thomas (6-8 Freshman Forward, 2.7 ppg)
21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Freshman Forward, 2.8 ppg)
24 Alex Illikainen (6-9 Freshman Forward, 2.6 ppg)
PLAYER TO WATCH
Over the last nine games, Brown is averaging 11.6 ppg and shooting 15-for-33 (.455) from 3-point range. Prior to this season, the junior forward had never attempted a 3-point field goal.
MINNESOTA PROBABLE STARTERS
3 Jordan Murphy (6-6 Freshman Forward, 11.8 ppg)
15 Stephon Sharp (6-3 Freshman Guard, 1.9 ppg)
23 Charles Buggs (6-9 Junior Forward, 5.4 ppg)
24 Joey King (6-9 Senior Forward, 11.8 ppg)
32 Ahmad Gilbert (6-6 Freshman Guard, 2.8 ppg)
OFF THE BENCH
21 Bakary Konate (6-11 Sophomore Center 4.5 ppg)
41 Gaston Diedhiou (6-10 Sophomore Forward, 0.7 ppg)
PLAYER TO WATCH
Murphy scored 17 points and eight rebounds in the first 20 minutes, but Illinois held him to five second-half points while forcing him into six turnovers.
LAST TIME OUT
MADISON – Dealing with a pesky Michigan squad itself fighting for its N.C.A.A. tournament lives, Wisconsin used a 13-3 run midway through the second half to build a cushion and continued streaking away from the Wolverines in a 68-57 victory at the Kohl Center.
Despite Michigan (20-10, 10-7) being undersized in the low block, and being outscored by an average of 5.7 points in the paint, Wisconsin settling for outside shots in the opening 20 minutes resulted in 4-for-12 from the perimeter, six points inside the lane and a 30-29 halftime deficit.
That problem was eradicated in the second half with the Badgers pummeling the Wolverines for 20 points in the low block, including seven straight layups that were a part of UW’s game-changing run as the Wolverines were forced to space out the floor.
“Once we started hitting shots in the second half, they couldn’t be as willing double down on us,” said Happ, as Wisconsin shot 56 percent in the second half, 14.3 percentage points better than the opening 20 minutes. “We were able to have more room to operate.”
After Wisconsin’s bench added 28 points in Wednesday’s upset win at No.8 Iowa, Wisconsin’s starting lineup did the heavy lifting. In addition to Koenig’s 19 points, Nigel Hayes had 16 points and seven rebounds, Vitto Brown had 14 points on four 3-pointers and Happ added 12.
Zak Irvin led four Michigan players in double figures with 14 points, but the Badgers held leading scorer Derrick Walton Jr. to 10 points on 3-for-13 shooting. The Wolverines lost for the first time this season when holding an opponent under 70 points.
Third in the Big Ten and 12th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage (39.8 percent), Michigan never got comfortable from the perimeter against the Badgers’ defense. The Wolverines only hit five 3-pointers, as UW took away the actions that usually allowed Michigan to find open spacing. UW also gobbled up the long rebounds for a 33-20 edge on the boards.
After giving up an average of 65.6 points over the first eight Big Ten games, Wisconsin has limited its last eight conference opponents to 60.1 points, a number that continues to improve as the calendar is about to turn to March.
MINNEAPOLIS - Breaking a two game losing streak in Williams Arena, No.6 Wisconsin’s wire-to-wire 76-63 over Minnesota gives the Badgers the outright Big Ten title for the first time since 2008, the No.1 seed in next week’s conference tournament for the fourth time and keeps them in the hunt for a top seed in the N.C.A.A. tournament.
Frank Kaminsky continues to enhance his national player of the year resume with a 25 points, six rebounds and a career-high seven assists. In the last two games, Kaminsky has scored 56 points, secured 14 rebounds and has a 10-to-3 assist-to-turnover margin. Sam Dekker finished with 20 points, hitting that mark for the third time in seven games.
Joined by Nigel Hayes (12 points), Wisconsin’s three-man frontcourt scored the team’s first 14 points via the dunk, wing jumper, free throw line and 3-point shot and finished with a combined 57 points on 21-for-41 shooting. The Badgers shot 50 percent for the game, their best road shooting performance since shooting 52.6 percent in a 23-point win at Northwestern Jan.4.
Wisconsin was so locked in early that Josh Gasser (4 for his last 19 from 3-point range) swished one from the top of the key as the shot clock expired, and Duje Dukan broke 1-for-15 slump over 11 games with his 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 22-10.
Starting 8-for-10 from the floor and 4-for-4 from 3-point range, Wisconsin built a lead in never surrendered, making Minnesota look foolish with back cuts, pump fakes and dribble penetration.
Even when Minnesota (17-13, 6-11) went on a 21-8 run over the two halves, the Badgers never let the lead drop below six.
The Badgers have won each of the last four meetings with the Gophers, eight of the last 10 and split the last four meetings at Williams Arena
Hayes has averaged 12.6 ppg against Minnesota, scoring at least nine points in all five meetings. He has shot 55.8 percent (24-43) against the Gophers.
Wisconsin has two players on the roster from Minnesota, walk-on senior Jordan Smith (Orono) and freshman Alex Illikainen (Grand Rapids).
With one more win, Wisconsin would reach the 20-win plateau for the 10th-straight season. The Badgers’ next win would also give them 12 Big Ten wins, something they have also accomplished in each of the last six seasons (the longest active streak in the league) and 10 of the last 14 seasons.
The Badgers have the most road/neutral wins and second-best win pct. away from home of any major conference team over the last three years. UW is 43-13 (.768) away from the Kohl Center in that span (6-5 this season).
Over the 11-game stretch, UW has made 15 more FTs than its opponents have attempted (191 FTs to 176 opp. FTAs). Compare that to the previous 18 games when the Badgers were -70 in the same stat (256 FTs to opp. 326 FTAs).
By hitting three 3-pointers against Michigan on Feb. 28, Bronson Koenig set a UW record by hitting at least 1 triple in his 40th-consecutive game. Koenig's 40-game 3-pointer streak is the third-longest active streak in the nation.
Murphy is one of only four major conference freshmen to average more than 10 points, seven rebounds and one block per game this year. The others are Henry Ellenson (Marquette), Ivan Raab (Cal) and Ethan Happ (Wisconsin).
King is 74-of-83 from the charity stripe this season (.892), which is first in the Big Ten and sixth in the nation.
After playing a total of 39 minutes entering Sunday’s game, Sharp started the game and doubled that total by scoring 19 points in 39 minutes of play, adding three rebounds, one steal and an assist.
Minnesota is fourth in the Big Ten in turnover margin at +1.4 and rank 35th among D-1 teams with 11.1 turnovers per game.
One game counts for one singular win or loss on a team’s record. In reality, however, an uplifting victory can mean so much more to a program desperately searching for something to grab on to.
Head coach Greg Gard went down memory lane on Monday when his first season in Madison (2001-02) was brought up in conversation. The number of times the Badgers’ program has struggled with Gard on the bench can be counted on one hand, but the first season Gard and head coach Bo Ryan were coaching Wisconsin made people wonder where the program was going.
There was a disappointed trip to the West Coast and Hawaii that left UW 1-3, supposedly butting of heads between assistant coach Rob Jeter and standout Charlie Wills, blowing a 20-point lead at Georgia Tech and an 8-8 start. As many remember, Wisconsin won 10 of its final 13 games to clinch a share of the 2002 Big Ten championship that began with a road win at No.25 Michigan State, but the spark really started with a six-point home win over No.7 Illinois a week before the trip to East Lansing.
Fourteen years later, UW was .500 (9-9) in January for the first since that first year. And as fate would have it, Wisconsin beat No.4 Michigan State – this time at home – to give the team a belief that has led them to 10 wins in its last 11 games.
“It's only one game, but it give us an immense amount of confidence, and I think reaffirms the process and reaffirms the track you are on,” said Gard. “Ours this year was Michigan State. That was one of those defining moments like, 'Yes, we're on the right track,' and we knew that point in time back in 2001, in the fall of 2001, that we were on the right track.
“Obviously there had been success here and there wasn't a whole lot of deviation from styles of play in terms of Coach (Dick) Bennett to Coach Ryan. It was just a matter of being able to get over that hump and have that first one, whereas coaches you know you are. I believe this year, even when we started 1-4 (in conference), that we were on the right track and doing good things, but it was matter of being more consistent for a longer period of time.”
That consistency comes from the culture Gard and Ryan helped establish over the last 15 years – fundamentals, ball security, spacing on offense, touching the post and smart defense. While all those categories have improved in the past 2.5 months with Gard at the helm, the one thing that has really taken a solid step forward is UW’s defense.
After holding Michigan to only 57 points Sunday, Wisconsin has held a team to its season low point total nine times this year. Entering the final week of the regular season, UW leads the conference in scoring defense (63.2 ppg) and turnover percentage (forcing more than one turnover per every five possessions) - two trademarks the program has become known for since that first championship year.
“When you have a blueprint in place,” said Gard, “it gives you a plan to follow and then making sure you don't deviate and don't flinch in the process of going through that plan and growing."
On the other side of the border, it’s hard to tell what the plan is with Richard Pitino at the helm, as the only two things that are growing for the Gophers are losses and players getting kicked off the roster. Although Minnesota has won two of its last three, including a shocker over now-reeling Maryland (ranked No.6 at the time), the Gophers have exactly one RPI top 100 win (the Terrapins) and nine losses to teams with a RPI above 105, including four with a RPI higher than 158.
And after Pitino kicked off senior guard Carlos Morris two weeks ago and suspended three more players for tweeting out a video of themselves engaged in sex acts, Pitino is left with only six scholarship players and no guards.
Minnesota has been right there with a lot of teams this season but haven’t closed the door, evident by its 4-8 record in games decided by six points or less. The Gophers do have a pair of good players in Murphy and King and will be playing with nothing to lose against their rivals on senior day. Murphy can drive the ball to the rim, is comfortable on the low post and crash the glass.
“They use him in so many different facets,” said Gard, saying Murphy has played at the three, four and five. “He’s a little bigger than Alando Tucker was, but he has that type of impact. He’s everywhere on the floor. For a young player, he’s making a lot of good things happen for them.”
King is the veteran who has been a solid 3-pointer shooter since high school who Gard gave a solid look at throughout the recruiting process. Other than that, however, Minnesota is a mystery with a lot of younger players being forced into action. Whether that was the case or not, Wisconsin wasn’t going to change anything with how they were going to attack or defend the Gophers tonight.
This is a game Wisconsin should easily win, but I’d be surprised if Minnesota does play inspired in its home finale. That should be worth a couple points to the Gophers, but UW will win by 14.
Worgull's Record: 21-8
Points off Prediction: 261 (9.0 per game)