The No. 14/15 Wisconsin men’s basketball team (10-6 Big Ten, 21-8 overall), fresh off a resume-padding win against Ohio State in Columbus, will now set its sights on longtime rival Minnesota (5-11, 17-12) in the first of two consecutive home games to finish out the regular season.
The win against the Buckeyes should be a big confidence booster for the Badger squad, as Wisconsin had not won in Columbus since 2008.
To illustrate how big of a win it was, one need only look to Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan. Ryan is normally not one to play up big road wins or make post-game celebrations, but after Sunday’s game, he broke out a little shuffle to show how proud he was of his team’s defensive play in what Wisconsin assistant director of athletic communications Patrick Herb is now calling “Bo Ryan’s Electric Slide.”
Any coach would feel like dancing if their defense played like the Badgers did against Ohio State on Sunday. Wisconsin held the Buckeyes to just 60 points in Columbus, just the fourth time they have been held to 60 or lower all year, and forced Ohio State into 12 costly turnovers.
The Badger post defense also did a number on preseason All-American Jared Sullinger, holding him to just eight points, his lowest in Big Ten play this year.
Keeping the sophomore forward Sullinger under wraps was due in large part to junior center Jared Berggren. Berggren made Sullinger work hard on both ends, challenging him on defense and taking him to task on offense to finish with 18 points, including what would be the game-winning three-pointer.
It has been a very up-and-down year for Berggren and he has been hard to figure out sometimes. He has had great performances against some of the nation’s best talent like Sullinger and North Carolina’s front line of junior forward John Henson and senior forward Tyler Zeller, but he has had a lot games where he has struggled and has not been able to assert himself on offense. This is puzzling because one could argue that Berggren is one of the most talented players in the Big Ten. If Berggren can continue the aggressiveness and confidence he displayed in this past game against the Buckeyes, he might just be the x-factor Wisconsin needs to move deep into both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament.
Berggren and the rest of the Badgers have the opportunity to continue their momentum when they face the Gophers Tuesday night. Minnesota comes into this game as losers of five straight games. The Gophers are a team with their backs against the wall, whose only shot of making the NCAA tournament is to win the Big Ten Tournament, so they will definitely be hungry for any kind of momentum. What better team to get it against than your archrival?
The Badgers can’t afford to make the same mistake they made in this year’s previous matchup agaisnt Minnesota, blowing a double-digit lead and being pushed to overtime. The Badgers must come out early and squash any hopes the Gophers have of hanging around, and once they do that, they have to keep the pedal down until the final buzzer sounds. Good teams know how to close out games, and for the Badgers to be the team they have the potential to be, they have to learn how to finish a team when they have them down.
Tip-off from the Kohl Center between the Badgers and Gophers is scheduled for 7 p.m.