Wednesday is a big day in the Big Ten, as the no. 19 Wisconsin Badgers venture west to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Wisconsin is favored by 2.5 points on the road.
After stumbling in early January, including a home loss to the Gophers, Wisconsin is rolling. Starting with an upset win over previously undefeated Michigan, the Badgers have won five games in a row. They are currently 8-3 in conference play, one game back in the losers column of first place, albeit with three teams ahead of them in the standings.
Meanwhile, Minnesota has struggled to find any consistency since the start of conference play. They are currently 6-5 in the Big Ten and 16-6 overall. Right now, that’s probably enough to put them in the NCAA Tournament, but they could fall on to the bubble if they’re not careful. On the bright side, the Gophers are 5-1 at home in conference play.
The Golden Gophers may be the most difficult team in the Big Ten to figure out. They’ve beaten ranked teams like Wisconsin and Iowa, and they nearly knocked off Michigan. However, they also barely pulled out a 1-point win over cellar dweller Penn State and got blown out by an Illinois team that’s 8-15 this season. Minnesota has proven that they can play up to better competition, but they’ve also struggled against bad teams.
Their struggles are even more perplexing when you consider that the Gophers have plenty of veteran players leading the way, particularly Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy, the team’s leading scorers. In fact, Minnesota has five players averaging 10 points or more per game, so they can get their offense from a number of sources. However, their shooting, especially from the outside, has been erratic. Each game is either a shootout that has both teams pushing for 90 points or a defensive slugfest in which both sides are lucky to get to 60 points. With the Gophers, there is no middle ground.
A Very Happy Man
For the Badgers, it’s all about senior Ethan Happ. The 6’10’’ point forward leads Wisconsin in points, rebounds, and assists. His skills as a dribbler and passer allow the offense to flow through him, even though he’s not a threat to score from beyond the arc. Happ averages 18.5 points per game but has scored 30 or more on three occasions this season. Opposing teams need to have a big man who can defend him both in the post and away from the basket; if they don’t, he can dominate a game on his own.
Of course, the Badgers are at their best when they give Happ plenty of support. The sophomore trio of D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, and Nate Reuvers are all shooting 40% or better from the perimeter this year, which is a big help. However, Trice and Reuvers remain a little inconsistent while Davison has been the one stepping up during the team’s winning streak. That needs to continue, as those three hold the key to how good Wisconsin can be on any given night.
You Never Know
As mentioned, Minnesota is unpredictable and has the confidence of beating Wisconsin earlier this season. However, Wisconsin’s complementary players are performing better than they were earlier in the year. The Badgers are the better team and the spread is more than reasonable. Bet on Wisconsin to win and cover against Minnesota on Wednesday.