The Matchup: Wisconsin (19-10, 11-5 B1G) vs. Minnesota (8-20, 2-14 B1G)
When: Wed. March 2; 8p.m. CT
Where: Minneapolis, Minn.; Williams Arena (14,625)
Radio: Badgers Sports Network
Last Meeting: Wisconsin won, 76-63 @ Minnesota (3/5/15)
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads 102-96
G Stephon Sharp — Fr. 6-3, 190 (1.9 ppg; 0.3 rpg; 0.3 apg)
G Ahmad Gilbert — Fr. 6-6, 210 (2.8 ppg; 1.4 rpg; 0.7 apg)
F Charles Buggs — Jr. 6-9, 230 (5.4 ppg; 3.0 rpg; 0.6 apg)
F Joey King — Sr. 6-9, 240 (11.8 ppg; 3.8 rpg; 1.4 apg)
F Jordan Murphy — Fr. 6-6, 230 (11.8 ppg; 8.1 rpg; 0.5 apg)
G Bronson Koenig — Jr. 6-4, 193 (13.7 pgg, 2.6 rpg, 2.3 apg)
G Zak Showalter — Jr. 6-2, 180 (7.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.3 apg)
F Vitto Brown — Jr. 6-8, 230 (9.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 0.8 apg)
F Nigel Hayes — Jr. 6-8, 240 (16.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.2 apg)
F Ethan Happ — Fr. 6-9, 235 (11.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Biggest Matchup: Nigel Hayes vs. Jordan Murphy
There’s no way around it, Wisconsin has a serious talent and experience advantage in this overall matchup. One place it doesn’t have as severe a talent disparity is in the forward matchup of Nigel Hayes vs. Jordan Murphy. Sure, Hayes has the experience advantage in a major way, but few forwards in the Big Ten are as capable of matching up stat-for-stat with Hayes this season and Murphy is one of them.
Wisconsin will need Hayes to be a force as much on defense as he could be on offense in this matchup, given the fact that Murphy averages a ridiculous 8.1 rebounds per game. He also happens to grab nearly 3 offensive rebounds a game as well, and if the Badgers want to make easy work of this game that will mean few second-chance points.
Look for Hayes to give Murphy a good lesson, but don’t expect this matchup to be a cake-walk the entire contest. Instead, watch Hayes just simply wear down the freshman from beginning to end in a methodic fashion.
3 Numbers to Know:
— 20.4: Nigel Hayes is averaging 20.4 points per game during Wisconsin’s current 7-game win streak. That’s exactly four points better than his overall season average, and a key component to UW’s run to the NCAA tournament.
— .455: Wisconsin’s propensity to nail three pointers as of late has been well documented. However, Vitto Brown has simply taken it to another level, hitting on 45.5 percent of his three-point attempts (15-for-33) over the last nine games alone. Before this season, Brown hadn’t even attempted a single three pointer.
— 63.2: There’s no doubt the offense is a talking point for the Badgers resurgence, but the defense has been even better. Wisconsin’s defense is giving up just 63.2 points per game in Big Ten play, leading all teams in the B1G in that category. Additionally, the Badgers lead the B1G in turnover percentage (forcing more than one turnover per every five possessions).
Prediction: Wisconsin 77, Minnesota 58
While history suggests these two teams hate each other, and that Williams Arena does crazy things to the Badgers…this simply isn’t a good Gophers squad and that may be being kind. A walk-on freshman vs. Bronson Koenig at point guard and a starting lineup that comes in averaging just 33.7 points per game is a bad recipe for the hosts.
Sure, the stats lie a bit since few of the starters were actually starters most of the season, but there is a significant playing time gap between these two teams. Unless there’s something even Richard Pitino doesn’t know about some of his own players, we could be in for a big time win for the Badgers.
Don’t be surprised to see the bench get significant playing time in this one, as it could and should be over quickly.