Badgers Breakdown: Minnesota vs. No.22 Wisconsin

Needing a win to clinch the No.2 seed in the Big Ten tournament, and to simply get the winning feeling back in the locker room, No.22 Wisconsin closes out the regular season against red-hot Minnesota. We break down the match-up.

Minnesota  (23-7, 11-6 Big Ten) vs. No.22 Wisconsin (22-8, 11-6 Big Ten) 

Date/Time – Sunday March 5, 5 p.m. central

Arena – Kohl Center (17,287)

Television – Big Ten Network (Brandon Gaudin and Jon Crispin)

Radio – Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Minnesota leads 102-98 (Wisconsin leads 62-33 in Madison)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 78-76, in overtime on January 21, 2017, in Minneapolis

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-3 Senior Guard, 8.0 ppg)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Senior Forward, 13.5 ppg)

22 Ethan Happ (6-10 Sophomore Forward, 14.0 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-2 Senior Guard, 14.1 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Senior Forward, 6.8 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

0 D'Mitrik Trice (6-0 Freshman Guard, 5.8 ppg)

1 Brevin Pritzl (6-3 Freshman Guard, 2.2 ppg)

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Sophomore Forward, 3.9 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Hayes has averaged 12.9 ppg and 5.6 rpg in seven career games against Minnesota. He has shot 52.3 percent (34-65) against the Gophers.

MINNESOTA PROBABLE STARTERS

0 Akeem Springs (6-4 Senior Guard, 9.9 ppg)

2 Nate Mason (6-2 Junior Guard, 15.4 ppg)

3 Jordan Murphy (6-6 Sophomore Forward, 11.3 ppg)

5 Amir Coffey (6-8 Freshman Guard, 12.0 ppg)

22 Reggie Lynch (6-10 Junior Center, 8.3 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

1 Dupree McBrayer (6-5 Sophomore Guard, 11.0 ppg)

21 Bakary Konate (6-11 Junior Center 1.8 ppg)

24 Eric Curry (6-9 Freshman Forward, 5.7 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Murphy has exploded in the second half of the Big Ten season to help lead the Gophers to an 8-0 record. In that span, Murphy is averaging 15.6 points and 12.4 rebounds per game on 60 percent field goal shooting. He has posted six double-doubles in the last eight games.

LAST TIME OUT

MADISON – Up nine with 3:46 to play, No.22 Wisconsin allowed Iowa to close the game on a 12-1 run and saw the dagger 3-pointer delivered by freshman Jordan Bohannon with 9.7 seconds left to deliver a 59-57 stunner.

The loss officially eliminates Wisconsin from having a chance to earn a share of the regular season conference title, a race it led by 1.5 games just 19 days ago. This one might have been the biggest gut punch of them all.

Wisconsin got a game-high 19 points from Bronson Koenig but his jumper to send the game to overtime ended up short to send the Badgers to their fifth loss in the last six games.

Double-figure contributes from Zak Showalter (11), Ethan Happ (11) and Nigel Hayes (10) also meant little, not when the Badgers couldn’t take advantage against a defense ranked last in the conference in scoring defense (77.7) and only managed to score 10 points off 19 turnovers.

“We’re trying to crawl out of it,” Hayes said. “It’s optimistically frustrating to see the losses we’ve had, the stretch we’ve been on, the things we’ve done to shoot ourselves in the foot.”

After giving up back-to-back 80 points in regular season conference games for the first time in 14 years, Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard praised the defensive effort of limiting Iowa (17-13, 9-8) 18.3 points below its average.

Problem is the Badgers are walking such a fine line that every little mistake is magnified, even during the last five minutes of games when they have been seemingly unbeatable, entering the night 19-0 on the season (34-0 under Gard) when leading or tied with five minutes remaining.

The Badgers led by six at that point and boosted it to nine off a Showalter 3-pointer with 4:15 remaining. Things started to unravel shortly after that.

On UW’s final seven possessions, the Badgers managed one point and three turnovers, struggling at times to even successfully inbound the basketball with Iowa mixing man, press and zone defenses.

“We’ve got to put together a full game,” Hayes said. “We come out, play well in spurts … We’ll give you a good five minutes and then forget what we’re doing for the next five.”

The Badgers also saw free throws cost them for the second time in five days. After missing 12 in a 10-point loss at Michigan State, UW went 5-for-14 from the line. Happ went 1-for-7, including two misses with 30.5 seconds left and the Badgers clinging to a one-point lead.

Nicholas Baer scored 14 points to help Iowa end a six game losing streak against the Badgers and get some redemption. Last year Iowa was ranked eighth and could halt the Badgers’ 8-1 run in an 8-point loss. This year they closed on a 7-0 run over the final 1:46.

After Happ’s missed free throws, Jok was too strong on a jumper, Hayes mistimed his jump to give Cordell Pemsl the rebound and an open kick to Bohannon. Shooting 39.5 percent from 3-point range on the season and 0-for-4 in the second half, Bohannon buried the open look to give Iowa its first lead in over 11 minutes.

Koenig had a chance to salvage the win but his jumper a step inside the arc with three seconds left went off the front rim.

The last stretch will be magnified, but Wisconsin didn’t help itself in the opening 20 minutes. Scoreless for 10 straight possessions, covering 6:42 at the tail end of the half, the Badgers’ failures to get to the free throw line (1-for-3), convert at the rim and get any production from their bench (zero points in 23 minutes).

SERIES NOTES

UW has won each of the last six meetings with the Gophers, and 10 of the last 12.

The Badgers have played in Minneapolis three times since the Gophers last visited Madison, winning all three, including a 79-77 overtime win at Williams Arena earlier this season.

Minnesota's last game at the Kohl Center was a 63-53 Wisconsin win in 2015

LAST MEETING

MINNEAPOLIS – When the final horn sounded and Akeem Springs’ off-balanced 3-point shot didn’t drop after teasing the bottom of the net, Wisconsin's Ethan Happ collapsed to the floor. After the stat line he put it, it was one of Happ’s first breaks all afternoon and a combination of elation and exhaustion.

One of the big difference makers in a gritty gut check, Happ scored a career-high 28 points – 22 in the second half – to help No.17 Wisconsin starve off Minnesota, 78-76, in overtime at Williams Arena.

Hayes added 21 points and paced things early for the Badgers, which moved back into a first-place tie with Maryland after dispatching the Gophers (15-4, 3-4) for a sixth straight time.

Koenig was held in check early but hit two big 3-pointers that proved to be the difference in a game that featured 18 ties and 17 lead changes.

Held to only five points in the first half, Happ showed a ferociousness attacking the rim that sparked Wisconsin’s offense. He scored 14 straight points at one point and helped UW have a 44-24 edge in the paint.

In addition to adding 12 rebounds, six assists, five blocks, one steal, one turnover and only two fouls, Happ nearly drew all five fouls against Minnesota forward Reggie Lynch and regained his rhythm from the free throw line by going 6-for-9 and hit a critical one with 12.9 seconds left in overtime.

Happ couldn’t do it alone, however, and got a big lift from the team’s two senior leaders.

Koenig was bottled up and prevented from getting clean looks for the second straight game. Having a penchant for hitting the big shot, Koenig lost the handle going up for a shot that could have won the game in overtime.

He made up for it in the extra session by scoring six of his 11 points, including a 3-pointer off a double screen with 38.7 seconds left that put the Badgers up 77-76.

Playing a game-high 42 minutes, Hayes scored 13 of his 21 points in the opening half to help the Badgers slog through another poor shooting first half. Outside Hayes no player contribute more than five points and the Badgers managed only 13 buckets on 31 attempts against the conference’s top field-goal percentage defense.

Once Happ started getting into a rhythm, Wisconsin’s shooting percentage skyrocketed up to 58.3 percent in the second half before finishing at 50 percent 31-for-62.

Amir Coffey scored 19 points and Springs added 16 for the Gophers, who lost their third straight. Springs hit a 3-pointer with 12 second left in regulation that ended a 5:13 scoreless drought and a 5-0 Badgers run to force overtime. He wasn’t so lucky with his off-balanced shot for the win.

WISCONSIN NOTES

UW's four-man senior class has enjoyed one of the most successful 4-year runs in program history. Their 110 wins makes them the third-winningest class in UW history.

UW has lost five of its last six games. The last time the Badgers lost of five of six was in Jan./Feb. of 2014 when they recovered to reach the Final Four.

If the Badgers can beat Minnesota they would finish with 12 Big Ten wins. UW has had 12+ conference wins in each of the last seven seasons, the longest active streak in the conference (Purdue is second at three straight seasons with 12+ wins).

Wisconsin has clinched no worse than a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten standings for the 17th consecutive season. That is the longest such streak in Big Ten history.

MINNESOTA NOTES

The Gophers have won a record 23 regular season games for just the second time in school history (excluding the vacated 1996-97 season), and can set a new mark with a victory over the Badgers. 

Winning just eight games last season, the Gophers are the NCAA's most improved team.

The Gophers have also now tallied five road wins in conference play, their most since 1982. 

The Gophers rank 296th out of 351 teams, according to KenPom.com in youth, and have seen major contributions from their freshmen and sophomores. Murphy is the team's leading rebounder and ranks third in scoring, classmate Dupree McBrayer is fourth in scoring, while freshman Amir Coffey is second in scoring and freshman Eric Curry ranks third on the team in rebounding. The Gophers roster features eight underclassmen.

PREDICTION

Preparing to play his final game at the Kohl Center, Nigel Hayes has been a part of some of the best moments of Wisconsin basketball in his four year career. He was a role player as a freshman on a team that was a surprise Final Four team and a starter on a team that advanced to the national championship game. As a junior, Hayes helped Wisconsin go through a mid-season coaching change and put itself in position to advance to the Sweet 16.

In his swan song, however, Hayes has constantly battled with himself as a scorer and a leader to turn around one of the biggest late-season collapses in recent Wisconsin history.

“Whatever is needed, whether that’s shoot more, score more points, get more rebounds, just do something,” he said Thursday following the latest setback. “Just be more, do more, help more, teach more. Whatever I’m doing, just do it more. Time is winding down. We’re trying to re-find ourselves again … It’s upsetting, especially when we lose the way we do and the way we have been doing.”

All the recent losses, most of the self-inflicted variety have caused UW to plunge in the rankings and on the N.C.A.A. tournament seed list. When the Badgers were 21-3 and ranked No.7 in the AP poll, Wisconsin still didn’t have a good enough resume to be listed among the committee’s top 16 seeds. Having gone 1-5 since, dropping them to 3-6 against the RPI top 50, the Badgers are projected somewhere between six and eight.

A win today could start to salvage Wisconsin’s profile, giving UW a sweep over a top 20 RPI team and could even help them get to Milwaukee, according to Scout Bracketologist Kyle Reichert.

“Milwaukee is not completely out of the question, but Wisconsin no longer controls their fate regarding location,” Reichert said. “The committee generally tries to minimize travel subject to the constraints of not re-matching regular season games in the first weekend and not subjecting top 16 teams (top four seeds) to home court disadvantage in the first game (not first weekend, just first game). So if there is a 1, 2 or 3 seed placed in Milwaukee, it is conceivable that Wisconsin could be the corresponding 9, 8, 7 or 6 seed, depending on whether or not the higher seed is a team Wisconsin has already faced.”

How much can Wisconsin hurt its seed? Badgers are currently an eight seed in Reichert’s latest bracket and can’t do too much more damage to their seed if they lose the next two games. That’s looking like a real possibility.

Minnesota is allowing opponents to connect on just 39.5 percent of its field goal attempts, ranking second in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense and 17th nationally. In addition, Minnesota is also the national leader in blocks per game (7.0), seventh in defensive rebounds per game (29.0) and ninth in 3-point field goal defense (30.1 percent - 1st in B1G) in the N.C.A.A. rankings. And if that’s not enough, Minnesota’s offense has scored at least 80 points in each of the last four games.

Wisconsin has too much talent to be struggling like they are but have shown no real sign of snapping out of it, especially when nobody appears to be stepping into a leadership role. Outside Purdue, Minnesota is playing better than anyone in the Big Ten and won’t be intimidated by the Kohl Center.

“We’re confident right now and they’re not,” McBrayer told the Pioneer Press of the Badgers. “We’ve just got to go in with the same confidence we’ve had during this eight-game winning streak and say we’re the better team. We know we’re better and we know we can win. That’s the mind-set we have to go in there with.”

Gophers are streaking toward the postseason while the Badgers are limping toward it. I'm going with the stronger team - Minnesota - by six.

Worgull's Record: 25-5

Points off Prediction: 260 (8.7 per game)

 


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