The No. 21/22 Wisconsin men’s basketball team (7-4 Big Ten, 18-6 overall) looks to rebound off its streak-snapping loss to first place Ohio State Thursday night when it travels to The Barn in Minneapolis to play the border rival Golden Gophers (5-6, 17-7).
Saturday’s loss to Ohio State snapped the Badgers’ six-game winning streak and took away Wisconsin’s chance at standing alone in first place in the Big Ten standings. Wisconsin missed a big opportunity, but it cannot afford to stew on the loss because this next stretch of games will likely be its toughest of the year. Four out the Badgers’ next five games will be on the road, including matchups with three teams that have already beaten the Badgers this year.
“Everyone definitely counts now. We’ve got to go out and play hard and leave everything out there,” senior guard Jordan Taylor said. “We definitely don’t want to squander any opportunities like we did on Saturday. It’s a seven game playoff and we’ve got to get every one of them.”
Might this stretch of road games actually be a blessing in disguise? Despite the energy the Wisconsin players get from the Grateful Red at the Kohl Center, the Badgers have not performed as well this year at home as they have in the past.
Wisconsin has already lost four games at the Kohl Center this year and have just a 3-3 record there in Big Ten play. Contrast that with the Badgers’ Big Ten road record, which is an impressive 4-1.
“On the road, so far, we have had a good mentality and been really focused,” sophomore guard Josh Gasser said. “It’s tough to go on the road and win games, but we have been playing hard and aggressive. We just need to find a way to win.”
This home-away disparity can also be seen in the Badgers’ shooting numbers. Wisconsin is shooting an impressive 40 percent from beyond the arc on the road, but are shooting just 23 percent from 3-point range in Madison.
The Badgers will need to continue their good efforts on the road if they hope to defeat a tough Minnesota squad that is very much alive to get a bid for the NCAA tournament.
The Gophers have been a competitive team this year despite losing their leading scorer, senior forward Trevor Mbakwe. While this says a lot about the depth of Minnesota’s roster, it also says a lot about the character of their team.
“[Losing Mbakwe] was a big loss for them and they’ve responded really well,” Taylor said. “That’s what basketball is about, that’s what athletics is about, that’s what life is all about, replacing people, opportunity.”
While there is no axe at stake in this game, it will be a very important matchup for both teams’ momentum and possible NCAA tournament seeding going forward.
This trip to Minnesota will be especially significant for a few Badgers that call the North Star state home. Four of the Badgers’ players, including three starters—Taylor, as well as junior forwards Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz—are from Minnesota and have been friends with players on the Minnesota roster since middle school. This brotherly love does not mean they will take it easy on each other though.
“I know those guys, I’ve got great respect for them,” the St. Paul, Minn. native Bruesewitz said. “But when Thursday night comes, you know, they’re not my friends anymore. We’ve got to take care of business.”
Tip-off for the Border Battle from The Barn in Minnesapolis is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m.