Wisconsin has based a quarter-century of men's basketball success on defense, and that continued Thursday. The Badgers took apart the Gophers in the first half with their stay-in-front, stay-down, physical style that Dick Bennett brought to Madison in 1995, and emphatically ended Minnesota's three-game winning streak, 71-59.
This debacle in which the Gophers shot 19% in the first half and the 31% for the game halted a stretch in which coach Richard Pitino's squad had been giving TV viewers a dramatic example of a formula for roster building that's likely to take over big-time men's basketball.
It's a world of NCAA-approved free agency, where a discontented athlete will no longer be required to spin a yarn of anguish — his family members are so worried about an uncle's upcoming meniscus surgery that the young man has to be within 400 miles just in case — to get approval for immediate eligibility as an undergraduate transfer.
The inability to transfer freely has covered football, men's and women's basketball, men's hockey and baseball in Division I. The FCS and FBS transfer rules in football have varied to a degree.
The disruption and delays of seasons because of the pandemic caused the NCAA to finally concede on the waiver issue for 2020-21. If you transferred in one of the five sports covered, you were eligible. And at some point in the next couple of the months, the new transfer proposal is expected to become NCAA legislation:
All undergraduates get one free transfer — meaning, immediate eligibility — in all sports. This will have no effect on the universal transfer opportunity for graduates with eligibility remaining.
Getting a few undergrads to transfer will be helpful in football. Justin Fields, Ohio State's quarterback, was Example A this season.
Yet, three or four transfers in a sport that starts 22 players and gives significant time to 35 or 40 on any given Saturday will not change the football dynamics to the same degree as in men's basketball, a sport where a coach starts five and relies on a few more.
Or, as Jim Molinari, the former interim coach for the Gophers, used to say to his friend Tim Miles, most recently the coach at Nebraska: "Play eight, trust seven.''
Richard Pitino has been close to that since Jarvis Omersa decided to "opt out'' at the end of fall semester, and undoubtedly will be playing elsewhere for 2021-22.
Based on recruiting of high school seniors from 2017 to 2020, Pitino's eighth season would be a train wreck and likely to get him fired, pandemic or no.
Based on the ability to attract transfers, Pitino has a first-division team in a loaded Big Ten, with victories over Iowa and Michigan State and almost a guarantee of being in the NCAA tournament (presuming it happens this time).
The Gophers are starting four transfers: program veteran Marcus Carr, grad transfer Brandon Johnson and new undergrad transfers Liam Robbins and Both Gach. Combined, they are averaging 110 of the available 200 minutes and 55.7 points.
Gabe Kalscheur is the only original Gophers recruit in the starting lineup. Four other prep recruits are being used with double-figure minutes: Jamal Mashburn Jr., Eric Curry, Tre Williams and Isaiah Ihnen. They are averaging 58 minutes and 15.1 points.
Miles started his head coaching career at Mayville [N.D.] State in 1995, then Southwest Minnesota State, North Dakota State, Colorado State and, from 2012 to 2019, at Nebraska. He's still living in Lincoln with his family, doing the podcast "Inside the Mind of Miles'' with exceptional guests and, at 54, waiting to get a coaching offer that appeals to him.
What doesn't appeal to Miles is the Wild West transfer approach that the NCAA is about to make permanent for Division I basketball.
"I don't love it, which really means, I don't like it,'' Miles said. "I'm not saying this because it's going to hurt coaches. I'm saying it because I don't think immediate eligibility is the great benefit that it's being sold to be by everyone.
"Some of the best players I had at Nebraska, the all-conference players, were transfers that couldn't play for a year. But they were practicing, they were getting used to the environment, they were maturing physically and becoming leaders.''
Miles then brought his view home with the Gophers:
"The No. 1 reason Minnesota is good is because they have Marcus Carr. Michigan State doesn't have a point guard like him. Kentucky doesn't. That's why you see power programs struggling … their point guard play.
"And Marcus came to Minnesota and wasn't able to play for a year. If he had played that season [2018-19], do you think he would've been ready to score 15 a game and get six or seven assists as the leader of his team last season? Do you think without that extra season to grow, he'd be getting 22 points and have his team on the way to the NCAA tournament this season?
"From a distance, I'd say that transfer season sure didn't hurt him. He's not just one of the best guards in the Big Ten.
"Marcus Carr's one of the very best guards in the country.''