Minneapolis, MN (SportsNetwork.com) - Having already secured a share of their 18th Big Ten Conference regular-season crown, the sixth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers can claim the title outright should they get past the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Thursday night.
If they fail to win in Minneapolis, the Badgers will have another shot when they close the campaign this Sunday at Ohio State. Wisconsin is an impressive 26-3 overall and it has won 14 of its 16 Big Ten bouts. Wisconsin bounced back from a 59-53 loss at Maryland last week to earn a share of the conference championship, the fourth under head coach Bo Ryan, by upending Michigan State at home last Sunday, 68-61.
Minnesota has been idle since also beating Michigan State, doing so last Thursday on the road, 96-90, in overtime. The victory stopped a three-game slide for the Golden Gophers, who despite being five games over .500 on the season, find themselves in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings with a 6-10 league ledger. Although the team has won 13 home tilts in 2014-15, its most recent clash at Williams Arena on Feb. 18 resulted in a 72-66 loss to Northwestern.
There is plenty of history between these two teams, with this being the 198th meeting. Minnesota owns a 102-95 advantage in the series, and that includes a 69-31 mark in games played in Minneapolis. That said, the Badgers have won the last three encounters, and seven of the last nine overall.
Frank Kaminsky pretty much put to an end to the Big Ten Player of the Year conversation in Wisconsin's recent win over Michigan State, as he scored 31 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out three assists, blocked three shots and came up with a pair of steals. Nigel Hayes added 14 points to the Badgers' cause, as they made good on 52 percent of their field goal attempts, despite missing the mark on 10 of their 14 3-point tries. A 12-4 edge in points from the foul line, as well as a 35-24 rebounding advantage certainly helped matters.
Kaminsky (18.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.6 bpg) ranks among the Big Ten's top performers in nearly every statistical category, and he shoots a stellar 54.9 percent from the field, 41.7 percent beyond the arc, and 74.8 percent at the charity stripe. Helps comes in the form of Sam Dekker (12.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Hayes (12.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), with others making solid contributions as well. The Badgers average 71.5 ppg while allowing a league-low 55.8 ppg. That latter figure actually ranks as the eighth-lowest yield in the country, and they lead all Division I teams in fewest fouls (12.6 per game), fewest turnovers (7.5 per game) and fewest opposing free-throw attempts (11.5 per game).
Minnesota shot the ball well in the opening half of last week's contest against Michigan State, converting 51.9 percent of its chances, but it still trailed at the break, 41-36. Both teams cooled from there, but the Gophers fought back to tie the game and send it to overtime. UM managed to score nearly as many points at the foul line in the extra session as it did during the first two halves (14-15), and it used that effort to earn the exhausting win. Carlos Morris led the Gophers with 20 points off the bench, while four others also hit for double figures, with Andre Hollins and Joey King netting 17 points apiece.
With averages of 74.4 ppg for and 66.6 ppg against, Minnesota's strength this season has clearly been on offense. The team boasts three double-digit scorers in Hollins (14.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Maurice Walker (11.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Morris (11.3 ppg), and DeAndre Mathieu has handed 129 assists to rank sixth in the conference. Additionally, Mathieu's 59 steals are the most of any player in the Big Ten. The Gophers are in the red with regard to rebounding margin (-2.4), but they lead the league in turnover differential (+5.1).