MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team hosts Wisconsin Tuesday night at Williams Arena.
It’ll be the only clash this season between the two border rivals in a weird scheduling quirk. There will also be plenty of Minnesota talent on the basketball court most of the night. Ben Johnson’s squad features seven local players, Dawson Garcia (Prior Lake), Joshua Ola-Joseph (Osseo), Braeden Carrington (Park Center), Pharrel Payne (Park Cottage Grove), Parker Fox (Mahtomedi), Jackson Purcell (Eastview) and Erick Reader (New Life Academy).
Greg Gard and the Badgers are no stranger when it comes to recruiting in Minnesota. Tyler Wahl (Lakeville North) is now a graduate student for the Badgers. They also have Steven Crowl (Eastview), Jack Janicki (White Bear Lake) and their most recent addition, Nolan Winter (Lakeville North). His dad, Trevor, was on Minnesota’s 1997 Final Four team and thought to be a Gophers lock until he landed in Madison.
"You kind of get that extra juice. Wisconsin comes into your place and it’s that rivalry," Fox said. "They have that extra fire, they want to prove that they went to the spot that was best for them. It’s vice versa for us, we’ve got a bunch of Minnesota guys here as well that want to prove why leave the state? It adds some fuel to the fire."
Johnson says is players know the rivalry adds to the game. It’s also a chance for the Gophers to get a home Big Ten win over a top-15 team. The Badgers come in 14-4, leading the Big Ten at 6-1 and ranked No. 13 in the country.
"The rivalry, the border, they know what that is. They get that, we don’t really talk about that all that much. Now it’s about we’ve got a chance to come home, I talk more about opportunity. Now you have an opportunity to play against a ranked opponent on your home court and see what you’ve got against a top-25 team that’s above us in the standings," Johnson said. "Those are the fun games when you get to go in that type of environment and prove yourself."
More importantly for Johnson and the Gophers, they enter Tuesday night’s rivalry game on a three-game skid after a 3-1 start in Big Ten play and are 12-6 overall. Without Elijah Hawkins at Michigan State, the Gophers were tied 62-62 before the Spartans ended the game on a 14-4 run. Johnson does not know if Hawkins will play Tuesday, as he’s dealing with an ankle injury.
Without him, the Gophers had 19 turnovers against the Spartans. Minnesota is currently in a tie for eighth in the Big Ten and could do themselves a big favor with a win over Wisconsin. Johnson is 0-4 against the Badgers, with the four games decided by a combined 14 points.
"I think that’s just how our league goes, especially when you go on the road. Just across the league, you look and there’s a couple teams up top and then there’s a handful of over half the teams that are stuck in that middle. It’s life in the Big Ten," Johnson said.