It's year six for Richard Pitino as head coach of the Gophers men's basketball team and a win over rival Wisconsin on Thursday night would be his first since the first time he faced them during the 2013-14 season.
But per standard procedure in recent years, the Badgers enter the game as a heavy favorite, with sports books in Las Vegas making Minnesota a 10-point underdog despite entering the game with an 11-3 record and quality wins over Washington, Texas A&M, Nebraska and Oklahoma State.
Wisconsin is 10-3 overall but ranked 22nd in the country thanks to nice wins over Oklahoma, North Carolina State, Stanford and Iowa.
Minnesota is 1-8 against the Badgers since Pitino took over as head coach in 2013, with two of the last three losses coming in overtime, including a 10-point OT loss at the Kohl Center last season.
- 2018 road: 73-63 loss (overtime)
- 2017 road: 66-49 loss
- 2017 home: 78-76 loss (overtime)
- 2016 home: 62-49 loss
- 2015 home: 73-66 loss
- 2015 road: 63-53 loss
- 2014 neutral: 83-57 loss
- 2014 road: 78-70 loss
- 2014 home: 81-68 win
The Gophers' best chance to beat the Badgers is to dominate the paint and slow down one of UW's big three: Ethan Happ, D'Mitrick Trice and Brad Davison, a trio that the Wisconsin State Journal notes is eating up most of the chances on the offensive end.
Wisconsin allowed 40 points in the paint in an 83-76 loss to Western Kentucky last week, and the Hilltoppers scorched the Badgers defense by shooting nearly 70 percent in the second half. It's a weakness that Minnesota's trio of bigs – Jordan Murphy, Eric Curry and Daniel Oturu – should be able to take advantage of.
And while Trice and Davison, a Maple Grove native, are both scoring in double figures, Happ is far and away their best player. The 6-foot-10 senior All-American candidate is off to a fantastic start, averaging 19.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.
Minnesota limited Happ to 10 and 9 points, respectively, the last two times they met. The Badgers still won both games but it's a sign that Pitino might know how to slow the big man down.
A win over the Badgers would give Minnesota two victories over top 25 teams (Nebraska) and a chance to start out hot in the conference with games upcoming against Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois and Penn State before back-to-back games against No. 2 Michigan and No. 25 Iowa later this month.