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Wisconsin brings Minnesota flavor into Border Battle with Gophers

GOPHERS at Wisconsin

Three things to watch:

MINNESOTA FLAVOR – The Border Battle gives fans from both sides reason to hate each other every year no matter who takes the court. But it especially strikes a nerve with Gophers faithful to see Minnesotans playing well for the Badgers, especially in this rivalry game. That means there probably will be a lot of frustrated Minnesota fans watching Maple Grove’s Brad Davison starring at point guard for Wisconsin tonight. But Davison isn’t alone. Lakeville North’s Nate Reuvers has started 12 games this season in the frontcourt. Davison and Reuvers are combining to average 17.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game this season. Reuvers sat the first five games of the season with plans to redshirt, but with limited production from older post players made his season debut in Game 6 against Milwaukee. Davison ranks among the top five Big Ten freshmen in scoring (11.5), assists (66), three-point field goal percentage (35.5), free throw percentage (80.9) and minutes played (30.5). He has scored in double figures 18 times this season, including a season-high 20 points against Marquette. Only three UW freshman since 1998 have averaged double figures. Reuvers has four double figure games, including a season-high 13 points against Maryland. Other Badgers from Minnesota include junior forward Alex Illikainen from Grand Rapids and walk-on freshman guard Walt McGrory from Edina. The Gophers have sophomore forward Michael Hurt from Rochester and sophomore walk-on guard Brady Rudrud from Eden Prairie. 

NO COFFEY – Sophomore guard Amir Coffey (14.0 ppg) is out for the season after deciding to undergo right shoulder surgery. He’ll miss his 11th game this season and sixth straight Monday against Wisconsin. Last week’s 87-57 loss against Michigan State was only the third time both Coffey and Dupree McBrayer (leg) were out of the starting lineup since Dec. 23 against Florida Atlantic. Richard Pitino is down three original starters and four of his top six players, including suspended center Reggie Lynch and sophomore post Eric Curry (missed season with knee injury). But Lynch and Curry were never coming back. But there was a chance Coffey would return before he decided to have surgery. The 6-8 former Hopkins standout reinjured his shoulder on a dunk in the second half of a Jan. 23 loss against Northwestern. The Gophers were 10-0 this season when Coffey had three or more assists in a game. Coffey’s starting replacement is Hurt, who is averaging 2.9 points and 1.0 assist in 17.2 minutes this season.

DOUBLE HAPP – The Gopher game plan in last season’s home loss to the Badgers was to guard star forward Ethan Happ with one defender and they got burned. Even with Lynch and Curry rotating in the matchup, Minnesota couldn’t slow down the Big Ten’s best inside scoring threat. Happ finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in a 78-76 overtime victory at the Barn. He scored 20 points in the second half alone. In the second meeting last season, Pitino decided to double team Happ and limited him to nine points on 4-for-12 shooting. Wisconsin still won 66-49 in Madison after hitting 10 three-pointers and holding Minnesota to 23 percent shooting in the second half. Bottom line, the Gophers will likely double Happ again to give themselves the best chance to win Monday. The Badgers don’t have the same veteran group that torched the U last season with Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown, who combined for 41 points in their final home game.

GAME INFO

Time: 8 p.m. CT, Monday. Where: Kohl Center. Line: Wisconsin by 7.5. Series: Minnesota leads 96-95. Last meeting Gophers lost 66-49 at Wisconsin on March 5, 2017. TV: FS1 Online/Live video: Fox SportsApp Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA (14-14, 3-12)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 16.4

G – Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 9.5

F – Michael Hurt 6-7 So. 2.9

F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 17.4

C – Bakary Konate 6-11 Sr. 1.6

Reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 8.4 ppg; Jamir Harris, G, 6-2, Fr., 4.0 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 3.5 ppg; Gaston Diedhiou, F/C, 6-10, Sr., 2.1 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 107-89 (6th season)  

Notable: The Gophers are shooting 40.3 percent (290-for-725) from the field and 34.6 percent from three-point range (85-for-246) in the 12 games without Lynch, who dropped his appeal last week for a U case involving an alleged sexual assault. Junior guard Dupree McBrayer (9.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.5 apg) returns to the lineup after missing his sixth game and second straight with a lower left leg injury last Tuesday against Michigan State. He last played in the first half of a home loss against Nebraska. McBrayer scored just 13 points combined on 4-for-19 shooting from the field and 2-for-10 from the three-point line in his last three games. In his last five games, freshman Isaiah Washington is averaging 16.6 points, 4.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds, shooting 87.5 percent from the foul line and 36.8 percent from three-point range in 31.8 minutes.

WISCONSIN (12-16, 5-10)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG                                         

G – Brad Davison 6-3 Fr. 11.5

G – Khalil Iverson 6-5 Jr. 8.5

F – Aleem Ford 6-8 Fr., 5.8

F – Nate Reuvers 6-10 Fr. 5.7                                                   

F – Ethan Happ 6-10 Jr. 18.3

Key reserves– Brevin Pritzl, G, 6-3, So., 8.7 ppg; Charles Thomas IV, F, 6-8, Jr., 1.1 ppg; Alex Illikainen, F, 6-9, Jr., 0.8 ppg; Andy Van Vliet, C, 7-0, Jr., 3.4 ppg.

Coach: Greg Gard 54-34 (3rd season)  

Notable: The Badgers have started multiple freshmen (Davison, Ford and Reuvers) for the first time since the final game of the 1997-98 season when Mike Kelley, Andy Kowske and Maurice Linton started in a 66-61 loss to Illinois, according to UW ... In their last game, the Badgers upset No. 6 Purdue at home, which was their sixth win against a top-10 opponent in three seasons under Gard.

Fuller’s prediction (22-6 picks record)Wisconsin 75, Gophers 66. The Gophers haven’t won in Madison since an overtime victory in 2009. They’ve also lost seven straight games to the Badgers in the series dating back to the 2013-14 season. Those aren’t good odds entering Monday, even when Wisconsin has a losing record and is expected to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years. McBrayer's return means it should be competitive even minus Coffey. But KenPom.com has the Gophers finishing 15-16 overall and 4-14 in the Big Ten. That means just one more win in the last three regular season games, most likely Iowa on Wednesday.

Could Gophers basketball get roster help for game vs. Wisconsin?

The Gophers basketball team that opened the 2017-18 season as a Big Ten title contender is now fighting to keep from finishing at the bottom of the league.

Getting starters Amir Coffey (shoulder) and Dupree McBrayer (leg) back healthy Monday at Wisconsin would give the Gophers (14-14, 3-12) their best chance to finish strong with three regular season games left and the Big Ten tournament.

Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said Thursday on his TV show he hoped Coffey or McBrayer could play next week, but their status is still day-to-day. Coffey has been able to participate in drills during practice. McBrayer hasn’t practiced in over a month, but he still played until recently.

Coffey and McBrayer were sidelined for their second straight game together in Tuesday’s 87-57 loss against Michigan State. They've missed 15 combined games this season.

“We really need Dupree and Amir,” Pitino said. “We just need an extra ball handler and it will give us flexibility to do some different things. When you’re down even one of those two guys, it really makes it difficult. So I guess the hope is one gets healthy over this next week, so they can come back. It’s really, really challenging.”

Coffey (14 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists), who has been out since tweaking his shoulder late in a Jan. 23 home loss against Northwestern, missed his 10th game and fifth in a row with a lingering right shoulder injury Tuesday.

The talented 6-8 sophomore took shots before the Michigan State game and was seen dunking at the Gophers’ practice facility in an Instagram post by senior Nate Mason on Thursday.

There’s a good chance Coffey could return before the end of the season, because he can’t hurt his shoulder any further. But if it continues to bother him after the season, the All-Big Ten preseason guard might need surgery, which would be a six-month recovery.

“It’s a see where is pain tolerance is at and kind of go from there,” Pitino said. “It’s a weird injury. It’s his right shoulder. You can see a lefty shooting jump shots and he might not look hurt. So it’s hard to really tell, but he’s a tough kid. We’ll bring him back when the time is right.”

McBrayer (9.5 points, 2.5 assists and 2.3 assists) has been dealing with pain in at least one of his legs since suffering a stress reaction in his left leg over the summer. The 6-5 junior has been out five games this season for a right left infection and lower left leg injury. The New York native played in 12 straight games dating back to the Dec. 23 win against Florida Atlantic, but he’s been sidelined since the second half of a 91-85 loss Feb. 6 to Nebraska. 

“What he’s been able to do the last month has been remarkable,” Pitino said. “He plays without practicing, so it’s really been impressive. It’s a pain tolerance thing. He’s not going to be pain-free. It’s a stress reaction. It’s a grade before a stress fracture. It’s about how much pain do you want to play in.”

Freshman guard Isaiah Washington has taken advantage of his expanded role with Coffey and McBrayer absent limited or absent. In the last five games, Washington is averaging 16.6 points, 4.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds, shooting 87.5 percent from the foul line, 47 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three-point range in 31.8 minutes.

Recruiting update

Gophers assistant coach Kimani Young was in St. Louis on Thursday night watching five-star Webster Groves (Mo.) point guard Courtney Ramey, according 247Sports.com’s Ryan James. Illinois coach Brad Underwood and South Carolina coach Frank Martin were both reportedly in attendance as well.

Ramey and five-star IMG Academy (Fla.) guard Anfernee Simons were both former Louisville recruits who reneged on their commitment after Rick Pitino was dismissed in September.