GOPHERS MEN'S HOOPS VS. WISCONSIN
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
MINNESOTA FLAVOR – When the starting lineups for the Gophers and Badgers meet at midcourt for the opening tip Wednesday night, there will be five Minnesota natives facing off together. Adding more fuel to the rivalry, Wisconsin has three starters from the Twin Cities in juniors Nate Reuvers and Brad Davison and freshman Tyler Wahl. Reuvers and Davison have already been a part of this Border Battle game back in their home state. But this will be the first time Wahl plays at the Barn as a Badger. “Just competing there, everybody growing up in Minnesota wants to play in there,” Wahl said this week. “It’s a great atmosphere. It’s fun basketball. Everyone loves rivalries. There’s always a little bit of something extra.” On the Gophers side, sophomores and Minnesotans Daniel Oturu, Gabe Kalscheur and Jarvis Omersa split games in their first season playing Wisconsin last year. Kalscheur started and Oturu came off the bench in the 56-51 loss at home against the Badgers. Oturu, who had 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in that game, said: “This is our home floor and we need to do as much as we can to protect it and get a win. Especially being from Minnesota, you always want to beat Wisconsin. You want to go out there and give the best effort you can.”
BENCH SUPPORT – The Gophers rank last in the Big Ten in bench points per game (6.8) and bench minutes (20.6 percent). The latter is also 342nd out of 353 Division I teams this season, which is a pretty good indicator just how little Richard Pitino relies on his bench this year. That likely has to change moving forward, especially when Minnesota hasn’t been able to rely on consistency from starters not named Oturu. The 6-foot-10 sophomore standout was named to the John R. Wooden Award top 20 list this week for national player of the year. But last week’s 59-51 loss at Illinois was an example of Oturu being a one-man show. He had 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting, but the rest of the team shot just 12-for-46 from the field (26 percent). Freshman Tre' Williams is the top scorer off the bench with 3.4 points per game. Freshman Isaiah Ihnen and senior Michael Hurt gave Pitino solid minutes defensively off the bench against the Illini, but they combined to score just five points on 2-for-7 shooting. Illinois’ bench outscored Minnesota 17-5. In the last four games, the Gophers have been outscored 72-20 off the bench. Wisconsin’s depth was depleted after losing starting guard Kobe King to transfer last week, but the Badgers still can bring in 6-10 junior Micah Potter (9.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 43.5 percent three-point shooting).
BOARD BATTLE –In the last four games, the Gophers have lost the rebounding battle every single time. Part of the problem is Oturu hasn’t been nearly as dominant on the boards recently. He hasn’t reached double figures on the glass in five of the last six games, including the last four. Is it asking too much to expect a double-double from him each night? Probably, but Oturu was grabbing well over 12 boards a game a month ago, which included 20, 18 and 16 rebounds during a three-game stretch in late December and early January. Can the Gophers still compete on the boards when their superstar center is not as dominant on the glass? It’s possible. But Pitino needs a team effort, especially from the guards. Sophomore point guard Marcus Carr ranks second on the team with 5.6 rebounds per game. The Badgers aren’t that intimidating on the boards, ranking 11th in the Big Ten in rebounding margin at minus-4.5. The Gophers rank seventh at plus-0.7 in league play.
Time: 8 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota 3.5-point favorite. Series: Gophers and Badgers are tied 97-97, but Wisconsin won the last meeting 56-51 at Williams Arena on Feb. 6, 2019. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTNPlus. Radio: 100.3
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (11-10, 5-6)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Marcus Carr 6-2 190 So. 15.6
G – Payton Willis 6-5 200 Jr. 8.8
G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 So. 11.7
F – Alihan Demir 6-9 235 Sr. 7.6
C – Daniel Oturu 6-10 240 So. 19.7
Key reserves– Tre’ Williams, G, 6-5, Fr., 3.5 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, So., 2.2 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Sr., 1.7 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, Fr., 1.8 ppg
Coach: Richard Pitino 141-116 (8th season overall)
Notable: Redshirt junior big man Eric Curry had successful surgery in the fall on a torn ACL in his right knee suffered during practice Oct. 7. The 6-9 redshirt junior hasn’t played a full season since his freshman year in 2016-17 after tearing ligaments in his left knee in 2017 and foot surgery last season. The last time Curry saw the court for the Gophers was with six points, four rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes in a win at Northwestern on Feb. 28, 2019. Curry’s best performance last season was with 11 points and four rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench in a 65-64 victory against Penn State on Jan. 19 at the Barn … Junior guard Payton Willis (shoulder) is expected to play Wednesday's game against Wisconsin. Willis, who averages 8.8 points, missed last week’s loss at Illinois. He also was sidelined for three games with an ankle injury earlier in the season.
WISCONSIN BADGERS (13-9, 6-5)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – D’Mitrik Trice 6-0 Jr. 9.6
G – Brad Davison 6-4 Jr. 8.8
G – Tyler Wahl 6-7 Fr. 2.8
F – Aleem Ford 6-8 Jr. 7.9
C – Nate Reuvers 6-11 Jr. 13.8
Key reserves – Micah Potter, F, 6-10, Jr., 9.0 ppg; Brevin Pritzl, G, 6-3, Sr., 7.5 ppg; Trevor Anderson, G, 6-2, Jr., 1.7 ppg; Walt McGrory, G, 6-3, Jr., 1.4 ppg.
Coach: Greg Gard 93-56 (5th season)
Notable: The Badgers have won nine of the last 10 games with the Gophers, including four straight victories at the Barn. Their last loss in Minneapolis was 81-68 on Jan. 22, 2014. That was in Pitino’s first season. Bo Ryan was still coaching Wisconsin and led the team to the Final Four that year. The Badgers got revenge with an 83-57 shellacking in the Big Ten tournament, which started a streak of eight straight wins in the rivalry until falling 59-52 in Madison (first time since 2009) last year …Wisconsin has six Quadrant 1 wins this season to lead all Big Ten teams, including five victories against top 25 opponents ... Davison will return to the court Wednesday after serving a one-game suspension last weekend for a unsportsmanlike play in the loss vs. Iowa.
Fuller’s prediction (13-8 with picks): Wisconsin 58, Gophers 54.