Jan 8, 2014; University Park, PA, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Austin Hollins (20) drives the ball to the basket as Penn State Nittany Lions forward Ross Travis (43) guards during the second half at Bryce Jordan Center. Minnesota defeated Penn State 68-65. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O
Minnesota’s four game stretch against Top 15 opponents concludes Wednesday night against No. 9 Wisconsin at Williams Arena. Coming off a 21-point loss to Iowa on Sunday, the Gophers are looking to rebound and come out of the four game stretch with a 2-2 record.
Unfortunately for the Gophers and Richard Pitino, the timing could not be worse. Seeking his first win against head coach Bo Ryan and the rival Badgers, Pitino and company will face a Wisconsin team that’s 16-2 and trying to bounce back from a two-game losing streak.
One could argue that Minnesota will have a chance to beat Wisconsin while they’re down, but Ryan has one of his best rosters in his 30 year head coaching career and will no doubt have his team as focused as they’ve been all year while trying to end a losing streak.
Wisconsin’s strength is with their bigs, notably 6-foot-8 sophomore Sam Dekker. He’s averaging 13.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, leading the Badgers in both categories. Dekker is very athletic and Minnesota will have their work cut out for them trying to contain him. Not only can Dekker get to the rim and dunk over defenders, he has good range and averages one three-pointer per contest.
Speaking of big men who can shoot, Frank Kaminsky is another name to watch out for on Wednesday night. The junior seven-footer is averaging 13.5 points and 5.9 rebounds, but is shooting 46.8 percent from three. Kaminsky has really improved his game over his three-year career, after only scoring 4.2 points in his sophomore campaign (less than two points and eight minutes played per game in his freshman year).
With the ability of these front-court players to hit shots from the arc but also beat you to the basket, Mo Walker and Eliot Eliason will have their hands full.
In order for Minnesota to have a shot at upsetting the Badgers, Austin Hollins will have to find his rhythm and come out of a shooting slump. In the last four games, Hollins has connected on 2-of-16 three-pointers. Defensively, however, the senior had a solid effort against Iowa with five steals and eight rebounds.
Other keys to the game for Minnesota are DeAndre Mathieu and Malik Smith. The two new Gophers have demonstrated their ability to contribute in Big Ten games, but consistency has been an issue with both players.
Speaking of consistency, what’s happened to Joey King? For starters, Big Ten play has not been kind to the former Missouri Valley Conference All-Freshman. The 6-foot-9, 225 pound forward has been tossed around in conference play and has seen his minutes diminish.