Daily Word: Gophers, Badgers need a win
Every weekday, Andy Katz leads a panel of our college hoops experts in a discussion of the biggest issues, trends and themes happening in and around college basketball.
1. Who needs Thursday's win more, Minnesota or Wisconsin?
Andy Katz: Minnesota clearly needs it more if it wants to make the NCAA tournament. But the Badgers have more of a shot of being a factor in March, and another home loss would seem almost inexplicable. For the team's confidence and to truly believe it has a shot to do something more in March, the Badgers need this game badly.
Myron Medcalf: Wisconsin, and it's not close. Anything Richard Pitino does the rest of the way is just icing in Year 1. But Wisconsin entered this season as a contender, and it has to finish strong to get a favorable seed and maintain Bo Ryan's streak of top-four finishes in the Big Ten.
C.L. Brown: Minnesota. I believe the Gophers are a lock for the NCAA tournament as long as they finish .500 in the Big Ten. A loss would put them two games under with a tough schedule ahead that includes road games at Ohio State and Michigan and at home against Iowa.
2. Is Tyler Ennis your freshman of the year?
Katz: There are still a few weeks left, but it's hard to argue at this juncture against Ennis' importance. He continues to be one of the best finishers in the country and is the primary reason the Orange remain undefeated. Jabari Parker is a load and an immense talent. Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins have had sensational moments. But I would vote for Ennis today as the national freshman of the year and as a first-team All-American.
Medcalf: Maybe. He's the point guard and closer for the best team in America. That's worth a lot. But Jabari Parker has been marvelous most of the season. It's definitely a conversation now, though.
Brown: He's got a strong case for the honor and obviously added to his résumé with the winning shot at Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. There's no doubt that no freshman has been more valuable to his team than Ennis. I agree with Myron, though, I'd still vote Parker right now.
3. How close is Northwestern to finally being a tournament team?
Katz: The odds are in coach Chris Collins' favor to finally get Northwestern into the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats have been trending upward, even under Bill Carmody. The Wildcats were one or two possessions away in key games that could have turned them into an NCAA tournament team. Collins has found the identity of this group. He ultimately wants it to be up-tempo, but he has no issue changing his approach based on personnel. There is a buzz about the Wildcats that hadn't existed.
Medcalf: The Wildcats moved closer to an NCAA tourney bid the day they hired Collins. His pedigree helped him land top-75 recruit Vic Law in a matter of months. Northwestern just needs to continue boosting its overall talent pool, and it could get to the Big Dance as early as 2016.
Brown: Collins has had an impressive debut season, which should have Northwestern very optimistic about the future regardless of how the rest of this season plays out. Next season could be the year it gets a bid. Although the Wildcats will lose leading scorer Drew Crawford, they will have a solid core of Tre Demps, Alex Olah and JerShon Cobb returning.
Games To Watch
This season's second installment of the Border Battle will feature a hungry Wisconsin team looking for revenge after the Badgers fell to the Gophers in Minneapolis. The home team in this series has won seven of the past eight meetings.
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Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg check in with newsmakers from around college basketball.