No. 5 Wisconsin (24-2; 12-1) hosts Minnesota (16-11; 5-9) at 11 a.m. at Kohl Center. Watch on ESPN or listen live on 1500-a.m.
Five things to watch as the Gophers try to break the Badgers' nine-game winning streak:
The first of three last-ditch chances. In the next three games, Minnesota faces Wisconsin twice and travels to Michigan State, a team that could be ranked with a win vs. Illinois tomorrow. That's a harrowing stretch, but it also presents the Gophers' only chance at some sort of postseason.
Hot Mason. There weren't too many bright spots in Minnesota's 72-66 home loss to Northwestern on Wednesday, but freshman Nate Mason breaking out of his slump for a productive, 15-point game on 50 percent shooting was one of them. The guard should have every chance to continue the surge on Saturday after getting cleared to play. Mason was slammed to the ground on a screen in the second half of the game vs. the Wildcats and said afterward he was dizzy for the rest of the game. Mason practiced on Friday. "He's good," coach Richard Pitino said. "He was pretty woozy. He got cracked, bigtime."
To zone or not to zone. A couple weeks ago -- when the Gophers' zone was cruising along, looking highly improved -- Pitino said straight out that he wouldn't zone Wisconsin because the Badgers are too good of a shooting team all the way around. He didn't have a problem zoning Indiana -- the team with the best three-point shooting percentage in the Big Ten -- and that netted 18 threes. But then vs. Northwestern, the coach played most man and that was arguably worse. Does he still have a no-zone policy heading into Kohl Center? "Probably," Pitino said. "Keep them off-balance a little bit. The problem is, the tough part with them is they've got such size at every position. Every single guy can pass and every single guy can shoot. I'm not saying I won't, but I'm not sure that's the best way to play them."
Big O. According to Ken Pomeroy's efficiency metrics, Wisconsin has the top ranked offense in the nation. The Badgers have the lowest offensive turnover rate, and the lowest offensive block and steal rates. The Badgers are connecting on 36 percent of their three-pointers in conference play, and everyone is involved. Six guys average 17 minutes or more, and none shoot worse than 30 percent. None of the five starters shoot worse than 34 percent. They've got one of the toughest matchups in college basketball in Frank Kaminsky, an extremely versatile center who can score the ball inside as well as he can step out onto the perimeter. "They put you in so many binds," Pitino said. "You've got one of the best players in the country in Frank Kaminsky. Do you trap him? Well if you trap him, he's going to pass it to another shooter. We're just going to hope he misses."
Hollins predicting a big game? Senior Andre Hollins has had some big games vs. Wisconsin in his big career. In seven games over three years, the guard has scored 18-plus in five of them (and 20-plus in four). The other two games? He scored two points and eight points. The first came in Minnesota's home win vs. the Badgers when Hollins severely sprained his ankle on his first shot of the night. The second, though, was in the second round of the Big Ten tournament, when the Gophers desperately needed a victory to make the NCAA tournament and Hollins didn't show up. Still, he has an average of 20 points in three games at Kohl Center. He says Wisconsin's defense suits his game. And, it turns out, he likes the Sterling balls Wisconsin uses (he doesn't feel the same way about Nebraska's adidas ball). "I like that ball a lot," he said. "I like the grip on it. It's a nice ball. It's a difference between just the texture. Northwestern plays with Under Armour at home, it feels like a completely different ball and Adidas balls feel lighter than the Nike balls. It's a difference. But at the end of the day, you've got to put the ball in the hoop, it doesn't really matter."