Gophers men’s basketball at No. 22 Wisconsin
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
HANDLING HAPP – As Gophers coach Richard Pitino stated in his Wednesday press conference, Wisconsin senior center Ethan Happ is basically “unstoppable” 1-on-1 in the post, but Minnesota actually held him in check in their last meeting in a 73-63 overtime loss in Madison. Happ scored 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting in 40 minutes against former backup Bakary Konate, but he did have a basket that tied it 59-59 at the end of regulation. The challenge of limiting Happ this year will most likely fall on 6-foot-10 freshman Daniel Oturu, who has been one of the top young big men in the league this season. He’s averaging 14.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks during Minnesota’s 5-0 run since a Dec. 2 loss at Ohio State. Happ struggled finishing against 6-10 freshman Charles Bassey in Wisconsin’s loss at Western Kentucky last week. Oturu has similar length to Bassey with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. They’re both Nigerian and were on the Nike Hoop Summit World team roster in April. Bassey is considered a potential NBA first-round pick this year. Oturu's has next-level potential, but it will be a lot to ask him to shut down the best low-post player in college basketball. If Oturu gets into early foul trouble, the Gophers won’t want All-Big Ten senior forward Jordan Murphy to guard Happ. That responsibility will carry over to 7-foot senior Matz Stockman or redshirt sophomore Eric Curry, who made his season debut Thursday against Mount St. Mary’s. Curry is Minnesota's best low-post defender and had experience facing Happ two years ago.
MINNESOTA FLAVOR – The Gophers have three Minnesotans in the starting lineup. The rival Badgers have a couple of their own. That will mean a lot of familiar faces going head-to-head on Thursday. Amir Coffey (Hopkins High School), Gabe Kalscheur (DeLaSalle) and Oturu (Cretin-Derham Hall) have started all season for Pitino. Brad Davison (Maple Grove) and Nate Reuvers (Lakeville North) have also been two of Greg Gard’s regulars. Oturu and Reuvers faced off in the Minnesota Class 4A third place game won by Cretin in 2017. Kalscheur, Oturu and Davison were AAU teammates with Howard Pulley. An All-Big Ten freshman last year, Davison was having a sophomore slump until scoring 20-plus points twice in his last three games, including 26 points in the loss at Western Kentucky. Coffey might be the spark the Gophers need to get their first win in Madison since 2009. He had a career-best 32 points in the last Big Ten game Dec. 5 in a win against Nebraska at home.
CURRY’S CONTRIBUTION – After missing last season with torn ligaments and meniscus in his left knee, Curry was sidelined for the first 12 games this season after cleanup knee surgery in the fall. Curry made his season debut Dec. 30 with four points and six rebounds in 17 minutes. His role could be similar to his freshman year. The 6-9 Memphis native averaged 5.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes off the bench on the U’s NCAA tournament team in 2017. Curry was projected as the starting center this year until surgery in late October after an MRI revealed cartilage damage with his previously injured left knee swelling. Swelling continued to push his recovery time past the four-to-six week timetable, but Curry said doctors have assured him the issue was resolved. Curry's last Big Ten regular season game was also against No. 22 Wisconsin in Madison, but it was in a 66-49 loss in 2017.
Time: 8 p.m. CT, Thursday. Where: Kohl Center. Line: Gophers 9-point underdogs. Series: Gophers and Badgers are tied 96-96, excluding vacated games. Last meeting 73-63 overtime loss at Wisconsin. TV: BTN. Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM.
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (11-2, 1-1 in Big Ten)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 15.1
G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 10.6
G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 10.4
F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 15.7
C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 10.8
Key reserves– Eric Curry, F-C, 6-9, So., 4.0 ppg; Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 5.2 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 2.3 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 2.2 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 3.8 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 119-94 (6th season)
Notable: Minnesota is undefeated at home (7-0) and in neutral site games (4-0) this season, but both losses have come on the road (68-56 at Boston College and 79-59 at Ohio State). Pitino’s road record is just 2-11 the last two seasons, including six consecutive road losses to end the 2017-18 season. The Gophers are 0-8 in the Border Battle since last beating the Badgers at home in Pitino’s first season in 2013-14.
WISCONSIN BADGERS (10-3, 2-0)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-D’Mitrik Trice 6-0 So. 15.5
G-Brad Davison 6-3 So. 10.5
F-Khalil Iverson 6-5 Sr. 5.3
F-Nate Reuvers 6-10 So. 7.2
F-Ethan Happ 6-10 Sr. 19.2
Key reserves– Kobe King, G, 6-4, So., 5.8 ppg; Brevin Pritzl, G, 6-2, Jr., 5.5 ppg; Aleem Ford, F, 6-8, Jr., 3.6 ppg; Charles Thomas, F, 6-8, So., 2.5 ppg.
Coach: Greg Gard 67-39 (4th season)
Notable: Wisconsin defeated Iowa and Rutgers in the early December conference games, but the Badgers are coming off a disappointing 83-76 loss at Western Kentucky last week. That dropped them from No. 15 to No. 22 in the most recent Associated Press top 25 poll ... Wisconsin is No. 13 in NET ranking and joins Duke and Michigan as the only teams nationally with four Quadrant 1 wins this season.
Fuller’s prediction: Wisconsin 74, Gophers 67. The Gophers have looked like a completely different team on the road in both losses this season. The Buckeyes resembled a Final Four caliber opponent the way they manhandled Minnesota in Columbus by 20 points. Boston College isn’t nearly as talented but it physically dominated Pitino’s team as well in a 10-point win. Even if the Gophers learned how to be tougher after those earlier defeats, they will have to be a lot better defensively. Wisconsin isn’t just a one-man show with Happ. If Pitino decides to double team him, then the Badgers can be deadly from three-point range with Davison and Trice.