2.) Make the easy ones
Considering Minnesota finished dead last among all Division I basketball programs in free throw shooting in 2022-23, there was nowhere to go but up for the Gophers this winter. And there have been improvements, albeit meager ones, as they currently rank 297th in the country with a 67.4 shooting percentage.
The well-documented struggles at the stripe are nothing new in the Twin Cities, nor just a Ben Johnson thing. For years, the program has been seemingly cursed at the line, a baffling issue that has cost them close game after close game. The numbers this year are particularly frustrating - just about all of their top contributors, including Garcia (83%), Hawkins (76%) and Joshua Ola-Joseph (72%) are putting up average to good numbers at the stripe, but with that has come misses at the most inopportune times.
Even more concerning for Minnesota is the fact that the team on the other side seems to always make the most of their opportunities, coming in 12th nationally in free throw percentage at 77.7%. That number isn't inflated, either, as the Badgers know how to draw contact and get themselves to the line, averaging over 21 attempts per game. This is an offense that relies on on their ability to get into the paint, force fouls, and make the most of them.
In a rivalry game like this that's always close, this mismatch on the line is the type of thing that can easily tip the scales one direction or the other. That doesn't mean the Gophers have to be perfect at the stripe to have a chance at an upset, but they simply can't afford the type of back-breaking, late-game misses that have become an all too common reality for the program.