Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals: 5 things to watch for

Jace Frederick

This is probably the end-all, be-all for the Gophers.

Beat Wisconsin and they’re in the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight year.

Lose and sweat it out on Selection Sunday — likely ending up on the outside looking in.

The fact that it’s against Minnesota’s biggest hoops rival — well, that just sweetens the pot.

Here are my five things to watch for:

Mo Walker: The two Badger battles have been two different stories for the junior center. Game 1 at home (a win): 18 points and nine rebounds. Game 2 in Madison (a loss): five points and three boards and he struggled with foul trouble.

Walker said he’s personally looking forward to a third opportunity to play Wisconsin:

“I definitely want another shot,” Walker said. “They game planned pretty well for me last game. It was tough. I was pretty disappointed in myself for my performance and in our team at the loss. I feel like we can beat them. … If we come to play, we should come out on top.”

Andre Hollins: Gophers coach Richard Pitino talked about how badly Andre Hollins wanted to make a big play against Penn State. He did just that with his triple to put Minnesota up six with 15 seconds to play.

Andre Hollins always seems to step up in postseason play (see last year’s NCAA Tournament).

“That’s happened since high school,” Hollins said. “I take it up to another level when it comes to the postseason. It’s just a mentality, not wanting to go home early. I just take that to heart and leave it all out there on the floor.”

Minnesota needs him to do it again on Friday night. The good news for the Gophers — Hollins owns the Badgers.

With the exception of the Jan. 22 battle when Hollins left the game with an ankle injury after the opening play and didn’t return, he is averaging 20.2 points per game against Wisconsin.

He’s topped the 20-point mark in four of his five full outings.

Frank Kaminsky: Kaminsky’s performances in the border battles are near opposites of Walker’s. In Minneapolis, he was a non-factor (nine points and four rebounds in just 15 minutes). In Madison, he was a beast (17 points and six rebounds). The Gophers need to find a solution for Frank the Tank. They can’t let him control the paint, or Wisconsin will control the game.

DeAndre Mathieu: The Gophers are now 9-3 in Big Ten play when Mathieu cracks the 10-point mark and 0-7 when he doesn’t. It really is that simple — the numbers tell it all. He is Minnesota’s motor. The Gophers need him to produce. 

Other bubble teams: Stay on alert, Gophers fans. Here are some of the results that would benefit Minnesota on Friday:

Providence losing to Seton Hall

Florida State losing to Virginia

Southern Miss losing to Louisiana Tech

Missouri losing to Florida

Tennessee losing to South Carolina

KenPom game prediction: Wisconsin 71, Gophers 66 (Minnesota has a 30% chance of victory)

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