Preview: (6) Wisconsin @ Minnesota

Basketball’s version of the Battle of the Axe continues on Thursday night, as the Minnesota Gophers welcome the Badgers of Wisconsin to Williams Arena in yet another intriguing matchup between these two teams.

The Badgers, carrying a 26-3 overall record, including 14-2 in the Big Ten, have already clinched at least a share of the Big Ten regular season conference title. This past Sunday, on Senior Day, the Badgers won a hard fought game at the Kohl Center against Michigan State, by the final score of 68-61. Senior forward, and Wooden Player of the Year finalist, Frank Kaminsky had his best game of the season this past Sunday. Kaminsky finished with 31 points and 8 rebounds, and was scoring at ease both from inside and outside. Sophomore forward Nigel Hayes also continued his phenomenal season, finishing with 14 points on the game. However, the Badgers bench continued to struggle this past Sunday. Wisconsin’s lack of depth this late in the season is causing many reasons for concern. The Badgers are praying for the return of senior guard Traevon Jackson for another long tournament run. Jackson’s presence would allow guard Bronson Koenig to go back into a bench role, and increase the overall depth of this Wisconsin team.

The Gophers have struggled all season long. They enter this game with a 17-12 overall record, including only a 6-10 record in the Big Ten. They’ve lost three of four games, but are actually coming off a very impressive victory in East Lansing this past Thursday night, defeating Michigan State in overtime. In this game, the Gophers were led by junior guard Carlos Morris, and his 20 points off the bench. Junior forward Joey King and senior guard Andre Hollins each added 17 points a piece, and senior forward Maurice Walker contributed 15 points and 8 rebounds. The Gophers need a miraculous run these next couple weeks, as a Big Ten Tournament championship is the only manner in which they would qualify for the NCAA tournament. With a cast of upperclassmen and a unusually-weak Big Ten conference this season, anything is possible.

These two teams met a couple weeks ago at the Kohl Center, on February 21st. In this game, the Badgers came away with a 63-53 win. The Badgers were led by Kaminsky’s 21 points and 5 rebounds. Sophomore guard Bronson Koenig also added 17 points in the win. Minnesota’s Andre Hollins scored only 2 points, on 1-8 shooting from the field. Minnesota also only shot one free throw all game, and committed 11 turnovers. 24 of Minnesota’s 53 points in the game came from their bench.

Thursday’s game marks the second-to-last game of the regular season for both of these teams. Wisconsin finishes its regular season schedule on Sunday afternoon in Columbus against a very good Ohio State team, while Minnesota finishes at home on Sunday against Penn State.

Prediction: Wisconsin historically plays poor basketball at the Williams Arena, and this will be no easy game. Minnesota has a lot to prove these next couple of weeks, as does Wisconsin. The Badgers are vying for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and would have to win out, including a Big Ten Tournament win, to do so. The Gophers are playing to participate in any form of postseason play. This game will be close and may come down to the last few possessions. The Badgers will clinch this game with clutch free throws and some big shots down the stretch, but Minnesota will play one hell of a game against this pesky Badgers team. We will be congratulating Wisconsin on an outright Big Ten regular season championship this Thursday night. Tip off from Williams Arena is 7pm Eastern time.

*Section Photo credit to Andy Lyons, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Mary Langenfeld, USA Today Sports

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