Minnesota-Wisconsin Preview

Putting together its longest conference winning streak in 73 years, Wisconsin seemed to be entering the postseason playing as well as any Big Ten team before stumbling on the road.

The Big Ten tournament gives the 12th-ranked Badgers another opportunity to build momentum prior to the NCAA tournament, though they’ll have to get by a Minnesota squad still trying to secure an at-large bid.

Friday night’s Big Ten quarterfinal will see Wisconsin take on the Golden Gophers in the teams’ second-ever conference tournament meeting.

The rivals split their regular-season series with each winning at home.

The Badgers (25-6) reeled off eight straight victories between Feb. 4 and March 5, marking their longest Big Ten winning streak since an 11-game run to conclude its 1940-41 schedule. During their streak were wins over ranked Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa squads. Wisconsin is also one of two teams with a win over top-ranked Florida, prompting some discussion that coach Bo Ryan’s club could perhaps play its way to a top seed in the NCAA tournament.

That speculation was dulled after a 77-68 loss at Nebraska in Sunday’s regular-season finale.

"I don’t even know what that is. I don’t even know what you’re talking about," said Ryan, who will take Wisconsin to a 16th straight NCAA tournament, 13 of which have come in his tenure. ” …No. 1 seed for what? We’re the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament. That’s the only thing I know."

While the Badgers were 9 of 20 from 3-point range with four different players hitting at least two, they let the Cornhuskers shoot 52.0 percent from the field. Their 73.2 points per game are their most ever under Ryan, but their 64.2 allowed are also the third-most during his tenure.

The Badgers, who lost to Ohio State in last year’s final, are seeking their third tournament title and first since 2008. They knocked off Minnesota in the 2004 quarterfinals – the schools’ only previous tournament matchup – en route to winning the tournament for the first time.

Minnesota (19-12) is looking to reach its first semifinal since 2010, and its NCAA tournament hopes could depend on it. The seventh-seeded Golden Gophers kept themselves in the discussion for an at-large bid with a 63-56 win over Penn State on Thursday, though a victory Friday could solidify their chances.

"I thought that if we won tonight and things went our way, we could be in," coach Richard Pitino said. "You get to 20 wins, you get a top five strength of schedule in the country, I believe that you’re rewarded when you play a great schedule. That’s normally what happens.

"But with that being said, we did come in here to win a Big Ten championship," he said. "That’s been our goal."

While the Badgers struggled defensively their last time out, Minnesota held Penn State to 32.2 percent shooting.

Austin Hollins scored 18 on Thursday and is 12 of 20 from 3-point range over his last four Big Ten tournament games. He’s also averaging 18.8 points over his last four games overall on 58.1 percent shooting. Hollins had been averaging just 6.4 points in his previous five games.

Andre Hollins has scored 18-plus in five of his six career matchups with Wisconsin while going 17 of 32 from beyond the arc. He scored 22 in a 78-70 loss in Madison on Feb. 13, though the rest of the starting lineup totaled just 21 points. Badgers guard Ben Brust scored 20 and hit all four of his 3-point attempts.

Minnesota shot 58.9 percent with its bench outscoring Wisconsin’s 41-15 in an 81-68 victory on Jan. 22.