Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
--Two of three teams currently sitting second in the Big Ten will battle to move to 4-1 in conference play when #21 Minnesota (15-1, 3-1) travels to Madison to face #53 Wisconsin (12-4, 3-1).
Wisconsin opened the conference season with three solid wins over Michigan, Penn St. and Northwestern, but a trip to Purdue on Sunday afternoon was a disaster, with the Badgers scoring only 52 points, a season-low. The Badgers don’t have an impressive a non-conference resume, dropping difficult games to UConn, Marquette and Texas, without any marquee wins. Minnesota’ s lone loss came in its Big Ten opener, but it played only one tough non-conference game, beating Louisville on a neutral floor. The Gophers enter the game on a three game winning streak, including beating Ohio St. and barely surviving a low-scoring game at Iowa.
Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin offense has been its typically effective self this season, but with a change of emphasis, the strength of the offense moving outside. The Badgers have kept their turnovers under control, coughing it up on less than 17% of trips, but, compared to other years, they have shot a better percentage from three, and done much poorer on the offensive glass, where they are a below average group. This is good news for Minnesota, as the Gopher defense has been the worst in the Big Ten on the glass. The Gophers are very good interior defenders, leading the nation in block rate, and force a lot of turnovers as well, but Wisconsin may be able to shoot over them.
Like Wisconsin, Minnesota’s offense has largely relied on good shooting, making over 50% of its twos and 38% of its threes. Unlike the Badgers, Minnesota does well on the offensive glass, and poorly with turnovers. Wisconsin’s defense has not been up to its typical standards, and is the weak point of the team, despite allowing under 60 points per game (the low ppg due to tempo). The Badgers have simply not stopped many shots this season, only average from inside or outside, and have forced very few turnovers, one of the worst rates in the nation. Wisconsin does control the defensive boards, and fouls rarely, but may have trouble stopping some of Minnesota’s good shooters.
Al Nolen runs the point for Minnesota as well as any guard in the Big Ten, second in the conference in assists, with nearly 6 a game, and in A/TO ratio, at a sublime 4-to-1. He isn’t a great shooter, but does everything else well, picking up a couple of steals and almost 4 rebounds. Nolan doesn’t score a lot, leaving much of that load to his primary backcourt partner, Lawrence Westbrook, the only double digit scorer and a solid three-point and free-throw shooter. Junior Damian Johnson is the experienced hand down low, a defensive force who is second in the Big Ten in both steals and blocks, and shoots better from the floor (54.3%) than from the free-throw line (53.8%). Colton Iverson is a 6-10 freshman who averages nearly 2 blocks a game, leads the Gophers in rebounding and shoots nearly 60%. 6-11 Ralph Sampson III has been another effective inside force, while sophomore Paul Carter has been hot and cold, under 40% from the field. Blake Hoffarber may be known for his miraculous shots, but the sophomore guard is an effective shooter under less extreme circumstances as well, he’s the Gophers’ best pure outside threat. Freshman Devoe Joseph has still not found his way, scoring-wise, in the backcourt, while Jamal Abu-Shamala and Travis Busch have been excellent scoring options off the bench.
Wisconsin boasts a very even team, with five players averaging between 8 and 13 points. Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon run the backcourt, with Hughes leading the team in assists and three-point percentage, hitting nearly 50% of his attempts from long-distance, while Bohannon takes a large percentage of the team’s three, with reasonable results. Senior Marcus Landry leads the team in scoring, and is another solid shooter who also has a good defensive presence, leading the Badgers in blocks. Joe Krabbenhoft is another senior forward who dominates the defensive glass, and shoots well from the line and the field, but doesn’t take a lot of attempts. The fifth of the scoring five-some is a bench player in sophomore Jon Leuer, who averages nearly 10 points and 4 rebounds in under 20 minutes a game, and is the centerpiece of the offense when he’s on the floor, putting up a lot of shots. Sophomore Keaton Nankivil is the fifth starter, a good offensive rebounder and a decent shooter who plays a small role. Tim Jarmusz is an effective shooter and rebounder in relatively few minutes.
Wisconsin is coming off a very poor showing against Purdue, and hasn’t quite looked like the Wisconsin that we’re used to seeing, but it has a clear offensive advantage, especially on the perimeter. Minnesota hasn’t done much on the road, and hasn’t faced a team as good as Wisconsin on a hostile floor. While Tubby Smith has placed the Gophers right in the hunt for a conference title, Wisconsin should be able survive a low-scoring, classic Big Ten battle, and keep up its chase of Michigan St.
Winner: Wisconsin Margin: 2-6
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.