Odd-seeded Big Ten teams, like No. 7 Minnesota, won every game on Thursday. So either that's a bad omen for No. 2 Wisconsin or Friday is destined to be an "evens" day.
After enjoying another first-round bye in the league tournament, the Badgers (25-6, 12-6 Big Ten) face a determined Golden Gopher squad that has already notched one victory against them this season. While Wisconsin would appear to be the far superior team at neutral sites, going 3-0 against St. Louis and two borderline tournament teams, Minnesota's two losses weren't terrible. The Gophers (20-12, 8-10) put up a fight against Syracuse in Maui, 75-67, before collapsing against Arkansas the next day. But the Razorbacks are projected to receive an at-large bid as well.
Richard Pitino went nine-deep into his rotation last night (partly due to Andre Hollins' foul trouble), so fatigue won't be a factor yet for Minnesota. I'm intrigued by which Andre Hollins shows up. He was injured immediately in the first game, yet Minnesota still rolled over Wisconsin. I wondered publicly if the injury was a bit serendipitous. In the return game, UW bottled up Hollins for six points, two turnovers and no assists in the first half, but the junior guard broke loose for nine of his 16 second-half points in the game's final five minutes to rally his team.
How they got here
Minnesota's first neutral-court win of the year came last night over Penn State, 63-56. The Gophers built a 14-point lead with under 10 minutes to go, but nearly squandered all of it when PSU cut the lead to three points with 45 seconds left. If Penn State wasn't so busy doing Penn State things in the final two minutes, the Nittany Lions might have advanced.
Give credit to Minnesota for clamping down defensively on the Nitts down the home stretch in order to keep its NCAA chances alive. Though the Gophers gave up a ton of rebounds to a cold-shooting PSU team, they countered by taking pretty good care of the ball -- which they don't always do. Andre Hollins found himself wide open with 15 seconds remaining and crushed the game-icing three-pointer. Now the Gophers have three wins over PSU and five against the rest of the conference. Total.
Since losing to the Badgers in Madison on Feb. 13, the Gophers have gone 4-3. The only win of note was a track meet against Iowa that looks less impressive every hour as the Hawkeyes continue to implode.
Josh Gasser - The redshirt junior has scored in double-digits in six straight games, averaging about 4 ppg more (12.5) than he did the previous 25 games. Gasser is pulling up from 3-point land with surprising confidence. It helps that he's torching the nets at a 59 percent clip from downtown during this stretch, in addition to 90 percent shooting from the free throw line. If you noticed, Gasser seemed to have more spring in his step the past two games. Maybe his knee is finally holding up with some consistency.
DeAndre Mathieu - Or Maurice Walker, take your pick. Mathieu is averaging 14 points on 19-for-33 (57.5%) shooting and almost six assists in about 34 minutes per game over the last four outings. He doesn't have much of a three-point shot, but he's fearless in the lane. Mathieu is Pitino's new sparkplug. Meanwhile, Walker has continued to steal minutes away from starter Elliott Eliason since he broke out against Wisconsin. Pitino is not afraid to go with Mo for the majority of the game if he's the hot hand. If both big guys can stay out of foul trouble, that's a great sign for the Gophers.
Sam Dekker - "What's that you say Mrs. Robinson? Slammin' Sam has left and gone away ... hey hey hey." Between Dekker and Traevon Jackson, Bo Ryan has two of UW's most enigmatic players in recent history on his hands. Needless to say, March has not been a kind month to Dekker, who has scored seven, five and six points over the last three games. Without his two nice cuts for dunks in the first half against Nebraska, that could have been his worst game of the season from an impact standpoint. His usage rate has tumbled since midseason and now his rebounding numbers are going south along, too. Dekker is a multi-faceted player who sohuld be able to adjust to his surroundings quickly and become more of a playmaker at times. He cannot continue to disappear when his shot isn't falling.
Andre Hollins - Minnesota fans might know how we feel. Prior to sinking the final dagger Thursday, Hollins had scored only six points. Part of the problem was foul trouble, which happens to him every once in a while. But as Mathieu has emerged, Hollins has the ball in his hands less. Yet he really needs have the ball and be scoring to impact the game, and he hasn't done much of that lately. Hollins averages 14.4 ppg but the last time he scored over 15 was against Wisconsin eight games ago.
Reliving the season series
*B5Q grills The Daily Gopher (Jan. 21)
*3 keys to beating the Gophers, Gm 1 (Jan. 22)
*Wisconsin vs. Minnesota recap: Badgers drop third straight (Jan. 22)
*3 keys to beating the Gophers, Gm 2 (Feb. 13)
*Wisconsin vs. Minnesota recap: Three-pronged attack leads to 3-game winning streak (Feb. 13)
Coverage from Indianapolis starts at 5:30 pm CDT on BTN.
Projected starting lineups
|Frank Kaminsky, Jr.||C||Elliott Eliason, Jr.|
|Sam Dekker, So.||F||Joey King, So.|
|Josh Gasser, Jr.||G||Austin Hollins, Sr.|
|Ben Brust, Sr.||G||Andre Hollins, Jr.|
|Traevon Jackson, Jr.||G||DeAndre Mathieu, Jr.|
KenPom win probability: 70% (71-66 W) 62 possessions
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