Well, here we are. The Vikings season is over and it’s time to move on. And, if you are going to move on, the Minnesota Gopher Men’s Basketball team might be the first place to park your bandwagon.

Richard Pitino’s squad has faced a tough schedule already this season, racking up wins vs Utah, Washington, Oklahoma State,  Texas A&M, and Nebraska on their way to an 11-2 start. The only two losses came to Ohio State in one of two early-conference games, and Boston College in the ACC – B1G Challenge.

But shit is about to get real tonight. Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, and Co. will head East to take the Kohl Center court against our most hated rival, the Wisconsin Badgers.

Everyone faces an automatic disadvantage when they enter the state of Wisconsin. The smell of moldy cheese and rotting trash is so pungent that Wisconsin state officials have begun to hand out the flimsy paper masks that you see at hospitals, as you enter the state.

Yet, they continue to grow good sports teams. 

The 10-3 Badgers have faced a schedule, so far this season, that is no fucking joke either. They hold wins over Xavier, Standford, Oklahoma, and Iowa already, with their 3 losses coming at home to a #4 ranked Virginia team and on the road vs Marquette, who’s an in-state rival + one randomly terrible loss @ Western Kentucky…

 

The Positive:

The Gophers are seemingly getting healthy. Eric Curry, who missed all of last year due to a knee injury, graced the floor last game where he put up 4 points and 6 boards against Mount Saint Mary’s last week. When he gets back into the swing of things, I’d expect him to be a top-4 player on this team.

Meanwhile, last year McBrayer and Coffey dealt with nagging injuries all season, leaving Murphy to be eaten alive by defenses. So far this year, the team has had personal trauma that’s rocked the locker room, with Dupree’s mother sadly passing, but no issues on the injury or discipline front is a far different story than the one we were facing this time last season.

Isaiah Washington has started playing a lot better. He might be embracing a role where he looks for his shot less and others’ more. It’s worked out for him against lesser opponents, where he reached double-digit assists vs both NC A&T and N. Florida.

Washington holds the key to the 2019 Gophers. If he is good and can even prove himself as a reliable starter…. the ceiling is through the roof. If not, the lack of a true point guard will come back to bite this team at some point. I don’t care what Richard Pitino says.

 

The Negative:

 

This Wisconsin team is really good. That’s the biggest worry going into the game tonight. Ethan Happ is still playing. I don’t know how this guy keeps on gaining years of eligibility but I know that he’s been playing basketball for Wisconsin since at least 2008. I’m worried about how Freshman, Daniel Oturu will fair against a guy who is at least 30 by now.

The Kohl Center is one of the toughest places to play in the entire country. I’ve already talked about the home-field/court advantage that every Wisconsin team holds vs opponents but no matter the reason, people don’t go into the Kohl Center and beat the Badgers very often.

 

A lot of Minnesota Kids Playing in this game:

 

I haven’t looked deep into it to try and count the total number, but this game will have at least 5 Minnesota Kids that will play large roles, just off the top of my head.

The Gophers have all three of their Minnesota freshman, who will all get valuable minutes, in Oturu, Kalscheur, and Omersa. And, don’t forget about Junior, Michael Hurt who will also get plenty of minutes off of the bench.

Maple Grove native, Brad Davison is one of Wisconsin’s top-3 players as Sophomore. You’ll be sad, yet impressed, if you haven’t seen him play yet.

To beat the Badgers, the Gophers will have to find a way to slow down Ethan Happ with Oturu, Curry, and Murphy. If they can limit that old man, we have a shot.

We will also need to hit outside shots. That’s something that has proven difficult for 2 years now. Gabe Kalscheur has cooled down and a heat up could go a long way toward a victory tonight for the maroon and gold…

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan