There’s really no polite way to say what Wisconsin basketball needs to do on Sunday.
Beat rival Minnesota (23-7, 11-6 Big Ten), which happens to be the hottest team in the Big Ten, or enter the Big Ten Tournament on a nearly unprecedented run of failure.
That will be the task for the Badgers (22-8, 11-6 Big Ten) on Senior Night at the Kohl Center. They’ve lost five of their last six games, and now face a Minnesota team that has won its last eight. What makes the losses even worse is they’ve exposed what seem to be fatal flaws for the Badgers, including poor free-throw shooting and a one-dimensional offense (that dimension is Ethan Happ).
At stake will be seeding in the Big Ten Tournament. A win would salvage the end of the season for Wisconsin and give it the No. 2 seed in the tournament. Its seeding with a loss depends on the outcome of Purdue-Northwestern at 3:30 Sunday. A Purdue win and Wisconsin loss would give the Badgers the No. 4 seed, while a Northwestern win would knock them out of the double-bye to a No. 5 seed.
Beyond tangible consequences, there remains immense emotional stakes for Wisconsin. The Badgers will be trying to extend a six-game win streak over their border rival. The Kohl Center will be sending off a four-man group of seniors — Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown — that is the third-winningest senior class in Wisconsin history with 110 victories, per UW Athletics.
So, it’s a simple agenda. Snap a losing streak, fix some flaws and beat your rival that hasn’t lost since January. Or face the prospect of one somber Senior Night.
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) March 4, 2017
Minnesota basketball vs. Wisconsin game time, details
Date: Sunday, March 5
Time: 5 p.m. CT/6 p.m. ET
Location: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
The line: Wisconsin is a 6.5-point favorite.
What TV channel broadcasts Minnesota basketball vs. Wisconsin?
The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
How can I watch Minnesota basketball vs. Wisconsin online?
The Big Ten Network will stream the game on BTN2Go, as well as all BTN2Go apps.
How can I listen to Minnesota basketball vs. Wisconsin on the radio?
The Wisconsin call for the game will be on the Badger Sports Network. A list of affiliates can be found here and the game can be heard online here. Similarly, Minnesota’s call will be on the Gopher Sports Network, with affiliates here and the online stream on 1500 ESPN’s site.
Who is calling the game for the Big Ten Network?
Brandon Gaudin and Jon Crispin will be behind the microphone on Sunday.
Wisconsin’s keys to the game
Make your free throws make your free throws make your fr …
Putrid free-throw shooting was on prime display for Wisconsin during its backbreaking 59-57 loss to Iowa on Thursday, during which the Badgers went 5-of-14 from the charity stripe. It was particularly egregious when star Ethan Happ, named a finalist for the Wooden Award on Saturday, had a chance to put Wisconsin up three at the end of the game and missed both shots.
Jeff Potrykus of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that the Wisconsin coaches are working with Happ on his mechanics, but this is a pressing issue with no quick fixes. Of course, they could always go the Ryan Evans route.
Happ had one of his most impressive games of the season when these teams met at Minnesota earlier this season, a 78-76 Wisconsin win in overtime. What made it impressive beyond the 28 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 blocks and only one turnover was that he did it against Big Ten blocked shots leader Reggie Lynch, who fouled out. Wisconsin’s offense thrives pretty much only when Happ thrives, so the rematch between Happ and Lynch is the biggest matchup of the game.
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard tried out a new look for the Badgers for a good chunk of the Iowa game, slotting a third guard into the lineup. That decision is likely a product of Wisconsin’s lack of depth in the frontcourt, since Happ, Hayes and Brown seem to be the only reliable options (and even Brown has been struggling). Facing Lynch and a Minnesota team that leads the conference in blocks by a chasmic margin — the difference between first and second place is wider than the gap between second and 10th — might be another reason to use three guards.