The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (22-5, 10-4) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (25-2, 13-1)
The Time: Tuesday, 7:00 p.m.
The Location: Xfinity Center, College Park, Md.
The Backstory: For the first time in over a month, Maryland has won three consecutive games. The Terps fought off an upset-minded Nebraska squad on Thursday evening to mark their third win in a little over a week. Despite holding double digits throughout the contest, the Cornhuskers made things interesting late, courtesy of a supreme effort from forward Walter Pitchford (19 points & 7 rebounds) and Shavon Shields (13 & 6). One of Maryland’s issues against Nebraska was their perimeter defense. The Cornhuskers shot 38.5 percent (10-of-26) from beyond the arc, and had five players connect on at least one three-point field goal.
From an offensive standpoint, Maryland played pretty well. The Terps shot 46.5 percent from the floor, including having three players in double figures. Forward Jake Layman, guard Melo Trimble, and guard Dez Wells continue to play some of their most cohesive basketball of the season. With the game still up for grabs in the final three minutes, Trimble remained incredibly calm and connected on three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to help Maryland put away Nebraska. During Maryland’s three-game winning streak, Trimble is averaging 21.3 points-per-game and 5.7 rebounds-per-game. The star freshman is playing some of his best basketball of the season, and could be the difference maker in terms of how far the Terps go in the NCAA Tournament.
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On the other hand, Wisconsin travels to College Park as winners of their last 10 games. The Badgers haven’t lost since they dropped a closely-contested road decision to Rutgers without star forward Frank Kaminsky. Aside from Rutgers, Wisconsin’s only other blemish was a non-conference heavweight loss to Duke. This is one of the most well-rounded teams in the country. After a Final Four run that just fell short against Kentucky last March, the Badgers seemed to have picked up right where they left off. Kaminsky, who has scored in double figures in every game he’s played this season, is playing terrific basketball. It’s not even just about being a low post threat with the Illinois native. Kaminsky has the ability to stretch the floor as he is shooting 40.9 percent from beyond the arc this season.
Despite missing point guard Traevon Jackson for the last month, Wisconsin hasn’t missed a beat. Jackson is set to return within the next week, although it’s a long shot that he plays against Maryland. In Jackson’s absence, so sophomore guard Bronson Koenig has done an admirable job filling the role of the floor general. During the six week period, Koenig is averaging 12.1 points-per-game, in addition to 47.7 percent (21-for-44) from three-point range. Koenig also has a 3.9 assist-to-turnover ratio, which ranks second in the entire nation. No matter who is running the point, Wisconsin’s offense doesn’t suffer much, if at all.
Secondary options Sam Dekker (13.1 ppg & 5.1 rpg) and Nigel Hayes (12.1 ppg & 6.5 rpg) also provide a significant amount of firepower. Dekker is a matchup nightmare because of his versatility. The local product has the ability to play the small or power forward spot and his 6’9 frame is a real problems on the defensive end. On the offensive end, he’s very athletic and is a good shooter when he sets his feet. Hayes is also a pretty strong athlete as he has the size to make an impact on the interior.
Having all this talent is great, but playing in a system like Bo Ryan’s that values sharing the basketball and controlling the tempo, helps these players to reach their full potential. Maryland is definitely going to have their hands full.
Keys/Storylines To Watch:
1.) Defending Kaminsky – The Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year is a handful. The way he stretches defenses, frustrates opposing teams. That is a huge problem for a team like Maryland that has issues in the low post at times. Center Damonte Dodd is going to be a big factor. If Dodd is able to suffocate Kaminsky and alter some of his shots, it’ll go a long way in slowing him down. Layman will also have to help at times. Layman’s length on help defense could be just what the doctor ordered. Kaminsky is usually too much for one player in handle, especially in the low post. However, if Kaminsky is out on the perimeter, Layman’s length could play a huge role.
2.) Efficiency – Ryan’s squad plays smart basketball. You rarely see a possession where a bad shot or an unforced turnover is the reason for an unmade basket. With the kind of firepower that the Badgers have up and down the lineup, Maryland’s defense will likely decide this game. Wisconsin is shooting 48 percent from the floor for the season, which ranks 20th in the nation.
3.) Trio of Layman, Trimble, and Wells – Over the last few games, the Maryland trio has done a majority of the scoring. The trifecta is averaging 74.7 percent of the team’s scoring over the current three-game winning streak. Trimble is playing some of his best basketball of the season, and that can’t be overstated. If this group is able contribute double figure scoring against a team like Wisconsin, the sky is the limit for the Terps.