Two of the Big Ten's best try to end losing skids on Saturday afternoon, as the 12th-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers pay a visit to the Wisconsin Badgers.
Minnesota's season got off to a fantastic start, as its only loss in the first 16 games came against nationally-ranked Duke on a neutral floor. Since then however, the Gophers have been humbled in the treacherous Big Ten with three straight defeats, dropping games to Indiana (88-81), Michigan (83-75) and most recently, at Northwestern on Wednesday night (55-48). As a result, UM sits at 15-4 overall and 3-3 in conference.
Wisconsin was one of the nation's hottest teams just a few weeks ago, capping off a seven-game win streak by knocking off then-No. 2 Indiana on the road, 64-59. Much like the Gophers however, the Badgers are in the midst of a slump as they have suffered back-to-back losses at Iowa (70-66) and versus Michigan State (49-47). The good news for Wisconsin is that it has played very well at the Kohl Center this season (10-2).
Minnesota holds a 94-87 lead in the all-time series with Wisconsin, but the Badgers have had the upper hand in recent years by winning three in a row and 16 of the last 20 meetings.
The Golden Gophers are typically one of the Big Ten's most explosive offensives, shooting 46.4 percent from the field for nearly 75 ppg, but their recent trip to Northwestern resulted in their poorest scoring output of the season. They made just 33.3 percent of their field goal attempts and committed 15 turnovers in the seven-point setback, and they did not help themselves at the foul line either (7-of-17). Overcoming his teammates' struggles was Trevor Mbakwe, who shot 6-of-7 from the floor on his way to 14 points, while also adding 16 rebounds for his fourth consecutive double-double. Andre Hollins (13.8 ppg) is usually the team's top scoring option, as he shoots nearly 42 percent from 3-point range while dishing out 3.7 apg. Austin Hollins (11.2 ppg, 2.7 apg) is also an important asset in the backcourt, ranking second in the Big Ten with 2.1 spg. Rodney Williams (12.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.5 bpg) and Mbakwe (9.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.7 ppg) are physical presences on the low post, while Joe Coleman (10.5 ppg) rounds out what is an incredibly balanced attack.
Against Michigan State, Wisconsin lived up to its billing at the Big Ten's most stout scoring defense (55.4 ppg) by holding the Spartans to just 49 points on 38.3 percent field goal efficiency. The only problem was it could not take advantage when it had the ball, shooting a woeful 29.6 percent from the floor in what wound up as a tough two-point loss. Mike Bruesewitz scored 10 points, and while Jared Berggren (nine points, nine rebounds) and Ryan Evans (six points, 11 rebounds) finished with solid lines in the frontcourt, together they could not buy a bucket (5-of-22). The Badgers are usually able to support their top-notch defense without much of an issue (+13.5 scoring margin), but their scoring offense (68.9 ppg) only ranks eighth in the Big Ten. Wisconsin's strength is in the frontcourt, with Berggren (12.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg) and Evans (10.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg) being the most consistent performers. Ben Brust adds 10.6 ppg and 5.7 rpg to the mix, while draining 38 3-pointers at a 38.4 percent clip.