Minnesota vs. Wisconsin Basketball: Contrasting the Squads' Starting Lineups

Ryan CuriFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2012

Minnesota vs. Wisconsin Basketball: Contrasting the Squads' Starting Lineups

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    Wisconsin currently holds a three-game winning streak in this series between these rival neighbor states up north. Prior to this current streak though, the Golden Gophers had won three consecutive over the Badgers. 

    The two teams will meet up twice this upcoming season, and by the looks of things it could certainly end up being a split with the home team winning. Both teams also return a majority of last year's talent, other than Jordan Taylor from Wisconsin.

    Despite the loss of Taylor, Wisconsin has become accustomed to winning basketball since Bo Ryan arrived in Madison, and that shouldn't change in 2012-13. The Gophers on the other hand, had a disappointing regular season a year ago but played well down the stretch in the NIT.

    Both Minnesota and Wisconsin are expected to be NCAA Tournament teams this year and finish in the top half of the mighty Big Ten. The lineups that I have listed here are projections that could switch by the start of the season.

    When contrasting the lineups, there were a few easy choices but also a few tough decisions to make as well. In the end, both fan bases have a lot to look forward to this year even though the playing styles of these two schools are very different.

Center: Elliott Eliason vs. Jared Berggren

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    As a redshirt freshman last year, Eliason started 11 games and averaged 2.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in just over 15 minutes of playing time. Only once did he tally double figures in scoring and rebounding, although on separate occasions. 

    At 6'11" and 260 pounds, Eliason offers the luxury of size that other Big Ten teams do not have. Eliason's minutes could range from barely playing to being a full-time starter this year. If Tubby Smith decides to play smaller lineups with Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams in the frontcourt, Eliason may not be needed to provide much. Center Maurice Walker also returns this year.

    Berggren, another former redshirt player, took a big leap between his sophomore and junior seasons. The soon-to-be senior averaged 10.5 points and 4.9 rebounds last year, while starting all 36 games and playing almost 28 minutes per game.

    Berggren's ability to score on both the inside and outside is what could help him have a special senior season. He will need to stay out of foul trouble, however, he did block 1.7 shots per game last year.

    This was an easy pick because of Berggren's well-rounded playing style, both offensively and defensively. While I see potential in Eliason, he may not receive enough playing time in Smith's deep rotation to flourish in their system.

    Edge: Wisconsin (Berggren)

Power Forward: Trevor Mbakwe vs. Mike Bruesewitz

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    As a junior in 2010-11, Mbakwe averaged a double-double with 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. He sat out most of last season after tearing his ACL and is determined to rebound and have a huge season as a sixth-year senior.

    Assuming Mbakwe fully recovers from the injury, he could be an All-Big Ten performer this upcoming season. He also needs to stay out of foul trouble while still adding 1.5 blocks per game. Mbakwe may be the strongest player in the Big Ten and will be tough for smaller power forwards.

    Bruesewitz had somewhat of a disappointing junior season but hopes to bounce back this year. He averaged 5.6 points and 5.1 rebounds as a starter although his numbers were nearly identical when he came off Bo Ryan's bench as a sophomore.

    Bruesewitz's defense and toughness is what earns him playing time, not his shooting or offensive ability. With incoming freshman Sam Dekker, Bruesewitz's minutes could change on a game-by-game basis based on the Badgers' needs.

    Mbakwe has the advantage over Bruesewitz, as he is a much more polished scorer and rebounder. Bruesewitz is more effective than his statistics show, but when you can count on Mbakwe to grab a double-double almost every game it's tough to argue this one.

    Edge: Minnesota (Mbakwe)

Small Forward: Rodney Williams vs. Ryan Evans

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    After two mediocre seasons in Minneapolis, Williams broke out as a junior, averaging 12.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Williams shined after Mbakwe's season-ending injury when he moved from small forward to power forward.

    Williams, the best leaper in the Big Ten, also blocked 1.4 shots per game a year ago, and scored in double figures in the Gopher's final nine games. The biggest weakness is his outside shooting, although he makes up for it with his ability to slash to the hoop.

    Evans' numbers stack up closely with Williams, as he averaged 11.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game as a redshirt junior. Like Berggren, Evans took a huge leap forward a year ago and hopes to continue his improvement.

    Evans scored in double figures in 14 straight games at one point last year and was the Badgers leading rebounder despite standing only 6'6". Evans has a nice medium-range jump shot but can also back down smaller defenders in the post.

    This was by far the toughest decision because both players have such big roles on their respective teams. Their playing styles are different, both of which work perfectly for their teams, but in the end I give Williams the slight edge because of his athleticism.

    Edge: Minnesota (Williams) 

Shooting Guard: Austin Hollins vs. Josh Gasser

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    Hollins averaged 9.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists as a sophomore, in just over 28 minutes of playing time. He finished the season strong, scoring in double figures in seven of the final eight contests.

    Hollins should certainly be a starter in 2012-13, but could get some competition between Joe Coleman and Julian Welch. The 6'4" Hollins can also play small forward if Smith decides to slot everyone up a position.

    Gasser, who will also be a junior this coming year, averaged 7.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game last season, while also being selected to the Big Ten's All-Defensive Team. Gasser was also successful on over 45 percent of his shots from behind the arc.

    In 2010, Gasser became only the third freshman to become a starter under Bo Ryan. The other two players were Devin Harris and Alando Tucker. Gasser could see some time at point guard this season, where he primarily played in high school.

    Despite a less versatile game offensively, Gasser's defense makes him more important to the Badgers than Hollins is to the Gophers. Both players could very well be their team's leaders when they are seniors in 2013.

    Edge: Wisconsin (Gasser)

Point Guard: Andre Hollins vs. George Marshall

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    It was a tale of two seasons for the younger Hollins on Minnesota's roster (Austin and Andre and not related), but he broke out in the NIT and could breakout as a sophomore, too. His final averages came out to 8.7 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game.

    Hollins started the final 10 games last season and had an eight-game streak of double digit scoring, where he surpassed 20 points on four occasions. Hollins should take a lot of credit for Minnesota's deep run in the NIT after a disappointing end to the regular season.

    It's tough to write about a player that you have never seen play before. In this case, Marshall could become a starter after redshirting as a true freshman in 2011-12. Assuming he wins that role, Marshall will have big shoes to fill after Jordan Taylor's graduation this past spring.

    Marshall, who hails from Chicago, only stands 5'11" but I'm sure has the toughness that every Bo Ryan-coached point guard has. In the swing offense, Marshall will need to get used to having the ball in his hands often, especially late in the shot clock.

    While Marshall could shine immediately, I believe it will take him some time to get used to Ryan's offense. Hollins, on the other hand, is full of confidence after finally earning his starting spot. This young point guard battle could be a fun one to watch, but in this case Hollins gets the nod.

    Edge: Minnesota (Hollins)

Overall

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    Based on giving the edge to each player in the starting lineups, Minnesota wins 3-2. There are plenty of other things that have to be taken into account though, in order to determine who will be better this year. Although both great coaches, Bo Ryan definitely beats out Tubby Smith as the better coach between the teams.

    Joe Coleman and Julian Welch are the two best players off Smith's bench, although Tubby often subs in for all five players. Sam Dekker could be a star in the making for Wisconsin and I wouldn't be surprised if he started. Ben Brust provides a deep threat off the bench as well.

    In Smith's five years in Minneapolis, Minnesota has never finished above Wisconsin in the conference standings. So despite giving the Gophers a 3-2 edge in starting lineups, I have to pick the Badgers to be the better team in 2012-13. 

    Minnesota certainly has more athleticism and offensive firepower, but Wisconsin plays better team basketball than anyone else in the league. Sweet 16 appearances are without a doubt in reach for both these talented teams. In the end, I predict a fourth place finish in the B1G for Wisconsin and a sixth place finish for Minnesota.