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Game Preview: Gophers at Wisconsin 1/26/13

01/25/2013, 10:00am CST
By J.B. Bauer

Rivals Ready for a Slugfest

#12/#14 Minnesota and Wisconsin are both looking to end losing streaks. The game will be available at 1pm CT on the Big Ten Network, live from Madison. (Photo: Michael Irvins / US PRESSWIRE)

Bo Tie Shirt

Fans at Saturday's game will be given a "Bo Tie" shirt as a part of the Coaches vs. Cancer campaign.

Game Preview: #12/#14 Minnesota (15-4, 3-3) at rv/rv Wisconsin (13-6, 4-2) 1/26/13

The Wisconsin Badgers have lost two in a row. They’re coming off a tough loss to Michigan State in which they shot just 7-for-18 from the free throw line.

Minnesota has dropped three in a row. The latest setback was in Evanston where the Gophers were only 7-for-17 at the charity stripe.

The performances at the line were unquestionably poor, but there are more important concerns for both of these teams. The coaching staff and players alike can work to address poor field goal shooting, especially on 2-point field goals. 

In their last game, respectively, Minnesota and Wisconsin had their worst field goal shooting performance of the season. 

The Gophers have often been able to mask their poor shooting nights this season through offensive rebounding dominance and their ability to get to the free throw line. Wisconsin can occasionally get by with weak shooting because they don’t turn the ball over. However, in order to have a great season both of these teams must be able to make shots.

Tubby Smith and Bo Ryan need to get their teams back on track soon. This game has great meaning for both squads. Being at home and having a road trip that begins with a visit to Columbus on the horizon, a loss on Saturday would be most painful for Wisconsin. Minnesota will host Nebraska Tuesday night.

SHOOTING
On paper, the offensive and defensive field goal shooting percentages of these teams look similar. Minnesota has shot 51.5% eFG and Wisconsin is 1.0% behind at 50.5%. On defense Wisconsin has been 0.9% better than Minnesota.

This game will probably be won by Wisconsin if they shoot the basketball well. All six of Wisconsin’s losses this year have come in the nine games when they’ve shot 50% or less eFG%.

For the year their 3-point field goal percentage is a respectable 34.8%. However, they’ve only made 31.0% of their treys in conference play and have had many poor shooting nights from distance this season.

Senior Ryan Evans is a high volume shooter. That might be good for Minnesota. He’s made 44.4% 2FG this year which drags down the team’s 2FG% from 51.3% to 49.4%. It isn’t a bad thing for the opposition when Evans is shooting jumpers and challenged shots at the rim. 

My article a few weeks ago highlighted the importance of 2-point field goal shooting to Minnesota’s offensive performance in the Big Ten. In the first three conference games, the Gophers shot 53.4% 2FG. During the three game losing streak they have converted only 43.6% of their 2-point attempts. 

TURNOVERS
Give the edge to Wisconsin here. It’s difficult to dwell much on the Gophers struggles in this area because bad turnovers are the norm. It’s been that way for the past few years and mistakes and follies are expected.

In all six of their Big Ten games, Minnesota has turned it over at a rate of 21.3% or higher. Only one other Big Ten team averages more than 21.3% per game – the last place Penn State Nittany Lions (21.9%).

The Badgers don’t turn their opponents a lot, but they are exceptionally good at minimizing miscues (under-15% turnover rate). 

With a slow pace of play perhaps the Gophers can keep their turnover troubles in check, but to think they will come out with a net turnover advantage in Madison isn’t reasonable.

REBOUNDING
The story here is that Minnesota is elite on the offensive boards and Wisconsin does a great job on the defensive glass. The Gophers get the edge as they’ve proven they can earn second chances against teams like Wisconsin. 

Ryan Evans is only 6’6” but does an outstanding job of defensive rebounding.  With Badgers’ backup center Frank Kaminsky likely out for Saturday’s game, there’s even more reason to believe in the Gophers winning the board battle by a sizable margin.

FREE THROWS
Similar to rebounding, Minnesota excels when they have the ball, but Wisconsin usually does well in keeping the other team off of the free throw line. Minnesota might be well served by trying to get the ball inside to Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams and even Mo Walker off the bench.

Talk of free throw percentages usually drives me crazy, but Wisconsin’s unusually poor 61.1% this season is amazing. Over the previous five seasons Bo Ryan’s teams converted free throws at a rate well above the national average, but they’ve been brutal this year. 

The biggest issue is that Ryan Evans is one of the few Badgers who can get to the line. After shooting a solid 71% during his first three years, Evans has made less than 40% of his 84 free throw attempts. 

His season is unique relative to what he’s done in the past. The answer to improving his free throw shooting isn’t taking 20 minutes in practice to stand at the stripe. If he’s religious, I’d have him spend some more time practicing that. Maybe a shrink is in order. 

Whatever the case, he will likely make some trips to the free throw line Saturday. If you’re a Gopher fan and he goes 8-for-8, chalk it up to your team either having very bad luck or being cursed.

KEY PLAYERS

Jarred Berggren (12.5p, 6.4r, 59% 2FG) has made only 13/43 3FG (30.2%), but he’s a versatile big that can score inside or out. Solid rebounder and shot blocker who can draw some contact, but you’ll rarely see him in foul trouble. The 6’10”, 235 pound senior is another quality player from the state of Minnesota.

Senior wing Ryan Evans (10.9p, 7.8r) seems to be everywhere on the floor at times. He’s not a great shooter and is only 6’6”, 212 pounds, but that just makes it more frustrating to the other team when he proves himself to be a difference maker time and time again.

Guard Ben Brust (10.6p, 5.7r, 2.9a, 38.4% 3FG) is a threat from deep and a very good basketball player. He’s scored in double figures only once over the last ten games and arguably should be looking to fire away a bit more often. Don’t let the lack of big games recently fool you – he’s capable of going off.

Other Players to Watch:

  • Sam Dekker (9.2p, 3.4r), a 6’7” true freshman from Sheboygan, Wisc., can flat out play. His eFG of 57.8%, which includes 28/66 for 42.4% 3FG, has been impressive. Dekker has had some amazing moments and strong games this year, but has also had his share of unmemorable showings. He’s legit, but still young.
     
  • Minnesotan Mike Bruesewicz has gotten through a couple of injuries this season and has looked good over the past month. He hasn’t taken shots with great frequency, but his 2-point shooting (64.3%) has been nice. Mike is a kid that outhustles others to rebounds and loose balls.
     
  • Young guards Traevon Jackson (23.8m, 5.6p, 2.8 stl%, 1.4:1 assist:TO) and George Marshall (18.8m, 5.6p, 2.1:1 assist:TO) have had some good outings, but their play has been inconsistent. 
     
  • The lefty combo guard Jackson is the physically stronger option at 6’2”, 213 pounds. Jackson has struggled shooting the ball and at times with turnovers, but he could come away with a couple of big steals on Saturday. 
     
  • Marshall has some quickness and is a smaller (5’11”, 185) option at the point. The redshirt freshman has made 26/60 3FG (43.3%).

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