NCAA Basketball Wisconsin Badgers (19-6, 14-9 ATS) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (14-10, 9-14 ATS), Williams Arena, Minneapolis, Thursday, Feb. 18th, 9 PM Eastern, ESPN
By Z-Man of Predictem.com
Point Spread/Betting Odds: Gophers -1/Badgers +1
One team trying to track down a conference championship takes on another team desperately trying to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive when the Wisconsin Badgers visit the Minnesota Golden Gophers in what should be a good Big 10 border battle Thursday night.
Several online sportsbooks opened this game with Minnesota favored by a point and a half, and a total of 124. And as late Thursday morning, Wisconsin had been bet down to +1.
The Badgers were expected to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in the Big 10 this season, and figured to be a bubble team come NCAA tournament time. But Wisconsin has played above expectations, and is now shooting for a decent seed in the Big Dance. The Badgers went 10-2 through their non-conference slate, with wins over Arizona, Maryland, Duke and Marquette, and losses to Gonzaga and, in a hiccup, UW-Green Bay. And they’ve won nine of their first 13 Big 10 games.
And Wisconsin has performed well after experiencing a bit of adversity when F Jon Leuer, who was averaging 15 points and six boards a game, broke his non-shooting wrist in a fall in a win over Purdue. Bucky bucked up, though, and after bombing Indiana Saturday 83-55, they’re 6-3 straight up and 5-4 ATS without Leuer.
The Badgers were unsure for quite a while how long Leuer would be out. But recent reports say he could return to the court Thursday night.
Minnesota, with four returning starters this season, was thought to have a better chance of making the NCAA tournament than Wisconsin. And the Gophers went 9-3 through their non-con slate, with a win over Butler but a loss to Portland. And they began their Big 10 season 3-1. But UM has lost six of its last eight games, after blowing a 13-point second half lead and falling in overtime at Northwestern Sunday 77-74.
So at 9-4 in Big 10 play the Badgers sit a fourth-place tie with Illinois, just a game and a half back of first-place Michigan State. The Gophers, meanwhile, occupy eighth place at 5-7. And if Minnesota has any hope at all of making the NCAA tournament, they must finish above .500 in Big 10 play.
Wisconsin is shooting 45% from the floor this season, 35% from 3-point range and 74% from the line. The Badgers are also holding opponents to 42% FG shooting, and are outrebounding foes by three boards per game.
Minnesota is shooting 47% from the field, 39% from long range and 68% from the line. They’re also limiting foes to 40% FG shooting and are outboarding them by 2.4 RPG.
But while the Gophers are allowing opponents to score 65 PPG, which is respectable, the Badgers are holding foes to just 56 PPG, fifth-best in the country.
Wisconsin is only 3-4 SU but 4-3 ATS on the road this season, and they’re 5-2 vs. the numbers as underdogs.
Minnesota is 11-2 straight up and 75 vs. the numbers at Williams Arena this season.
At various times this season the Badgers have beaten the fourth- (Purdue), fifth- (Michigan State) and sixth-ranked (Duke) teams in the country.
Minnesota’s best win this season was either their neutral-court decision over Butler or their home victory over Ohio State Jan. 9.
The Gophers swept two games from the Badgers last season, by scores of 78-74 in overtime and 51-46. The first game had gone over its posted total of 122 before it went to the extra five minutes, while the second game never came close to approaching its same total of 122.
Before that, Wisconsin had beaten Minnesota six times in a row.
The Badgers are 8-14 on the totals this season, as their games have averaged 124 points. Minnesota is 11-11 on the totals, as its games have averaged 139 points.
Sagarin’s PREDICTOR ratings at USAToday.com rate Wisconsin at +4.6 over the Gophers. Factoring in Sagarin’s CBB home-court advantage figure of 3.9, and the Badgers are still about one-point favorites over Minnesota for Thursday’s game on the Sagarin line.
Z-Man’s Pick: The Golden Gophers play exceptionally well at home. Look for them to win and cover what should be VERY tight throughout. Good luck!