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February 13, 2014

Walking the beat: Minnesota





MADISON, Wis. - The Minnesota Gophers have not had much success in Madison as they are 1-15 in their last 16 trips across the border, including a 1-12 mark all-time at the Kohl Center.

Ryan James of GopherIllustrated.com stopped by to answer a few questions about tonight's matchup between the Badgers and the Gophers.

Andre Hollins didn't make it past the first minute before injuring his ankle in the January 22 meeting between these two teams. How much does his presence on the court mean to the Gophers and does he change their offense in any way?

When Andre was out in the previous Wisconsin game the team responded with their best man to man defensive performance of the year coupled with interior performances from Mo Walker, Joey King, and Oto Osenieks all catching and scoring deep in the post in the second half multiple times. Minnesota hit a wave of momentum unparalleled for most of the season as the crowd was wild and game changing, the low post performance was excellent, and the defense was magnificent.

However, in the three games that followed Andre missed two of them and then played at about 70 percent at Purdue. All three of these games were losses as the teams were able to send more attention the way of Gopher point guard Deandre Mathieu (doubling off ball screens, deeper help off other Gopher players, putting a better defender on Mathieu, etc) who turned the ball over 19 times combined in those games.

Andre's presence is large because not only is he the team's leading scorer but he is also the secondary ball handler most of the game and he's the back-up point guard when Mathieu sits. Andre brings defenders off of his teammates because he's a constant threat to hit from the arc, he will attack lanes to get rim or hit a pull-up, and coming off ball screens bigger defenders must respect his ability to turn the corner so they have to step into uncomfortable territory.

Richard Pitino has exceeded (at least outside) expectations in his first season as head coach of the Gophers. If you could credit his success to one or two things that he has brought to the Minnesota program, what would it be?

To say it in one sentence it's energy. Richard Pitino has brought energy to recruiting, he's brought new life to the offensive end, and he's brought in guys in Mathieu, Malik Smith, and Joey King who are confident, tough minded workers that will fight anybody from tap to buzzer.

Offensively there is just so much more activity than there has been in recent past. Ball movement is a constant, players are running sets with discipline, and the amount of quality post touches the team is getting is a night and day difference. In the past players didn't seem to have a clue about how to enter the ball, where to enter the ball, and the timing of it but now the Gopher fours and fives touch the ball on the block in great spots.

Minnesota is also running a lot under Pitino although they did that with Tubby Smith as well. The difference is there are more trail threes hit from this team and they have a guy in Mathieu who pushes the ball way different than any Gopher since Al Nolen.

The number one thing Pitino has brought is energy and it shows in several forms.

Minnesota has struggled on the road in Big Ten play this season, going just 1-4. They are 1-15 in their last 16 visits to Madison. First, why has this team struggled on the road this season and second, what needs to happen Thursday in order to end the slide?

They struggle on the road because they turn the ball over in key spots and defensively they don't play with the same discipline and intensity. They haven't been horrific on the road recently. It was a three overtime loss to Purdue and a two basket loss to Nebraska. But they didn't defensive rebound at Purdue and it cost them, against the Huskers they let Terran Petteway run wild scoring 35, and at Iowa their defensive effort in the second was so putrid there isn't another word to describe it with. Also, in the four Big Ten road losses Mathieu has 24 turnovers. If that is controlled they will play better.

Prediction:

I think Wisconsin will win a five point game that is close throughout and the Badgers put it away from the foul line in the final minute. I will say Wisconsin 67 Minnesota 62. Winning on the road in the Big Ten is as hard a thing to do in college basketball as there is and the Gophers have done it just once in the Kohl Center. Odds are against the Gophers, but that is the way a lot of the feisty guys on this team like it.

Player to watch:

It's Deandre Mathieu. Mo Walker has been incredible lately, if Elliott Eliason plays the way he has been most of the season, and if Andre Hollins looks better on that ankle sprain the Gophers have a great chance. But there is way to much evidence on Mathieu's performance (good shooting percentage and low turnovers equals win, bad shooting numbers and too many turnovers is a loss) to suggest anything else. If Mathieu controls the ball well and makes the right choices the Gophers have a shot to win. However, if he turns the ball over too much and has a shooting game like 4 of 11 (most shots are at the rim by the way and he is about 5-foot-10) than the Gophs will likely fall in Mad-Town once again.


For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow Zack on Twitter.



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