After a hard-fought 63-61 loss to the Purdue Boilermakers, the Wisconsin Badgers are traveling to Minnesota for their final game of the regular season: a bout with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, with their playoff hopes looking bleak at the moment.
Off the initial look, it may seem as if the Badgers have an easier opponent on Sunday, given Minnesota’s record, but the Golden Gophers recently upset the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on a buzzer-beater, snapping a 12-game losing streak, showing some light.
The two teams faced off earlier in the season, and it was a tight bout, as the Badgers narrowly defeated the Gophers 63-60 when both teams were at full strength.
Obviously, much has changed since the game, such as guard Connor Essegian’s rise to the starting lineup, but this game should be yet another tough one for a Badgers team starving for a victory.
DraftKings Sportsbook currently lists the Badgers as a five-point favorite against the Gophers, with an over/under placed at 127.5 points. Will the Badgers cover the spread?
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See DraftKings.com/sportsbook for details.
Here’s what you need to know about the Badgers’ opponent on Sunday.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers come into the matchup with an 8-20 record, ranking last in the Big 10 with a 2-16 conference record.
However, Minnesota is coming off the 75-74 win over Rutgers, where starters Jamison Battle and Dawson Garcia dropped 20 and 19 points, respectively, narrowly edging the Scarlet Knights.
The Boilermakers are led by Garcia, who has scored 15.4 points per game on 45.2% shooting, while securing 6.9 rebounds per game.
Garcia is complemented by Battle and guard Ta’lon Cooper, who average 13.2 and 9.9 points respectively, albeit on below-average efficiency, although the latter has hit 38% of his threes, while racking up more than six assists per game.
Minnesota isn’t a strong team on either side of the ball, averaging just 62.5 points per game, while allowing 70.9 points on 44.9% shooting from the field, including 36.2% from three, to opponent offenses.
Keys to the Game
Offensive Rebounds: Minnesota and Wisconsin are both pretty porous rebounding teams, with the former averaging 33.4 and the latter averaging 31.2 rebounds per game, which are 12th and 14th in the Big 10, respectively.
Offensively, the numbers aren’t much better, as the Gophers average 8.8 offensive rebounds, while the Badgers average just 7.6 per game.
Both teams have one player in their regular rotation above 6’10 in Steven Crowl and Dawson Garcia, while implementing more small-ball around their bigs.
However, in the first meeting between the two teams, Wisconsin was heavily out-rebounded on the offensive glass, securing just two, as opposed to Minnesota’s 11 offensive rebounds.
In such a low-pace game, extra possessions cannot occur when the game should be a close one.
Wisconsin needs to have that physicality down low against Garcia and the Minnesota forwards to have an edge in this battle.
Point guard battle: When the two teams played back in early January, the point guard battle was integral to either side, as Ta’lon Cooper and Chucky Hepburn each dropped 16 points, with the latter pick-pocketing the former to secure the victory for the Badgers.
Cooper is coming off a fairly cold stretch shooting-wise over his past four games, but has been a dominant passer, while Hepburn has been extremely inconsistent with his efficiency and scoring as of late, making this matchup fairly volatile for both teams.
With the importance that each player had during their bout on January 3rd, the point guard battle will be one to watch on Sunday.
Three-pointers: Where do the Badgers have a distinct advantage? Three-point shooting.
The Badgers hit nearly 36% of their threes, good for fourth in the Big 10, while the Gophers convert on just 32% of their opponents, ranking amongst the conference’s worst.
That was seen in the 63-61 loss to Purdue for Wisconsin, where the team’s three-point shooting kept them in the game, despite their abysmal percentages from within the arc.
Back-tracking to the last matchup between the two sides, Wisconsin shot the three-ball well there, hitting 40% of their shots from distance, which was the difference in score between the two sides.
The Badgers have improved from distance, as Connor Essegian has taken a bigger role, while Max Klesmit and Jordan Davis have seen an uptick in their averages over the past month.
Neither team is especially dominant inside, and Tyler Wahl should look to capitalize by being aggressive, but Wisconsin should also utilize their biggest strength in this matchup to come on top: the three-ball.