There is a score to settle in Tuesday night's grudge match in Madison. Wisconsin (10-2) has not beaten No. 14 Minnesota (11-1) on the court in almost three years. To end the drought, the Badgers will rely on their players that know the Gophers best.
You already know where I'm going with this. Four different UW players who will see action in the game hail from Minnesota, but none of them have played very well against those rascally rodents during Wisconsin's current losing streak. Jon Leuer struggled in his first game back from injury in last year's tilt and has yet to notch a signature performance against the Gophers. Jordan Taylor has gone scoreless in two of the three losses and has been saddled with foul trouble. Much like Taylor, Mike Bruesewitz fouled out last year in 20 scoreless minutes. Jared Berggren has not faced the Gophers yet, but will be called upon this year to combat Minnesota's height.
Here are the per-40 averages against the Gophers for the three Minnesota natives who have seen playing time for the Badgers in the last three match-ups against the Gophers:
In the last three match-ups, Wisconsin has seen it all. As painful as it might be, let's recap. What Minnesotans call the "Miracle in Madison", we call the The Lawrence Westbrook Game. That started the slide, when the No. 17-ranked Gophers coming back in the final three minutes to escape in overtime. [box score] Two months later, the Badgers appeared ready to return the favor at Williams Arena, but Westbrook repeated his heroics. [box score] And when No. 14 Wisconsin was favored last year, the Goofs bullied them (38-21 rebounding advantage) to dash UW's conference title hopes at Williams Arena in a game Minnesota led for the final 29:23. [box score]
With Wisconsin's trend toward taking more taking more three-pointers, you can expect to see plenty tonight. On the flip side, Minnesota's aggressive approach allows them to get to the free throw line as well as any team in the country. But the general consensus is the Gophers have let down their guard after a great start to the season, even struggling to put away South Dakota State recently. They may have as much to prove as the Badgers.
The individual match-ups should be an interesting contrast as well. Taylor has struggled checking Minnesota's quicker point guards like Al Nolen and Devoe Joseph. On the home court, maybe he will be allowed to play more physical defense and get to the line himself, (he leads UW in that category). Athletically, none of the Badgers can equal wing Rodney Williams or power forward Trevor Mbakwe. Keaton Nankivil is very athletic in his own right, but Mbakwe is a freak. Nankivil usually faces off against opposing centers, but Bo Ryan may choose to let him give it a try, freeing Leuer to guard Ralph Sampson III. Sampson is the "softer" center who will shoot from the perimeter, while Colton Iverson is more of a banger. The Gopher I am actually worried the least about is leading scorer Blake Hoffarber.
Regardless of what you think of Tubby Smith's coaching ability, his arrival in Minnesota jump started this border rivalry again. Gopher fans have a three-game winning streak to crow about and point to the "end" of Ryan's recruiting coups in the state since Bruesewitz was last to escape and was not even offered by Smith. Even if it is winter break, the Kohl Center atmosphere should be classic.