As if facing a stout Maryland squad in its home venue was not a large enough task already, the streaking Wisconsin Badgers have an enormous opportunity in front of them Tuesday night. Though Wisconsin (25-2, 13-1 Big Ten) has now won 10 games in a row over conference foes, the Badgers will have to topple perhaps the best team it's faced this calendar year to make it 11 straight and earn a share of the league title.
The second-place Terrapins (22-5, 10-4) can make life difficult for Wisconsin with their own bevy of playmakers on offense and ability to rain threes on an opponent. However, the Badgers have been been such cool customers answering almost every team's best shot throughout the Big Ten season that their deep hunger for hardware is undeniable. These Badgers live for the pressure.
Today, we're thrilled to have editor Alex Kirshner join us, representing acclaimed Maryland blog Testudo Times for the first time. Let's go ahead and preview this epic contest.
B5Q: Overall, what has impressed or disappointed you about Big Ten venues, fans, and programs so far? Do you feel any B1G rivalries already bubbling?
Testudo Times (Alex): The conference has a lot of parity after Wisconsin, and I think that's mostly a positive thing. It's a big-time conference with a lot of competitive programs, and that tends to make for good games in good atmospheres. I've found the officiating to be almost unbelievably loose, which is disappointing. "Let the players play" is a fair mindset and all, but fouls should be called, and it's seemed that Big Ten officials often go to great lengths not to call them.
Traevon Jackson hoping to return Sunday vs. MSU
The senior point guard says he'll return to the court for Senior Day, Wisconsin's last home game of the season.
B5Q: Maryland is 5-3 in their last eight games and has been throttled by some mid-to-upper tier Big Ten teams on the road. What went wrong in those losses that the Terrapins have usually avoided in home games?
Alex: For one thing, Maryland's perimeter defense has cratered, especially on the road. The Terps are still an above average three-point-defending team overall, but they've consistently let teams shoot between 40 and 60 percent on threes in recent games. Indiana, Iowa and Ohio State all did it to them, and a couple of home games have presented similar problems. In spurts, they've also been eaten alive on the offensive glass without getting many boards themselves.
B5Q: The statistics point to Maryland being an aggressive team on offense that gets to the foul line often, led by freshman Melo Trimble. Describe Trimble's game and the impact he's had on the team already.
Alex: All of that's true, and Trimble's the catalyst. He doesn't have the same raw athleticism of conference counterpart freshman guards D'Angelo Russell and James Blackmon Jr., but he doesn't have a single weak point in his game. He's an authoritative driver toward the basket, a good three-point shooter (39.5 percent on the year) and an improving-by-the-day distributor. His assist rate has climbed into the top 400 nationally, and he's just evolved into a complete point guard. It should also be noted that he faces a double-team every time he tries to dribble anywhere, and he's dealt with it capably. In Trimble, Maryland has a good one.
B5Q: Maryland excels in several of the same areas that Wisconsin does to be successful, such as limiting fouls, turnovers and offensive rebounds. But in Big Ten play, it seems like the Terps' inability to score inside has dragged down the offense. Is that accurate?
Alex: Completely. Maryland's two-point shooting in league play is at an abysmal 43 percent, and that holds back the offense a ton. The Terps only score 42.8 percent of their points inside the arc, which is 338th in the country and close to last among major-conference teams. They're not good inside, partially because they don't have any effective post presences. It also hasn't helped that Dez Wells, the senior shooting guard, has taken 30 more two-pointers than anyone else on the roster and is shooting 42.9 percent on them -– which mirrors how the team's done as a whole. Maryland can torch teams at the foul line and three-point line, but it isn't a threatening team inside.
B5Q: Wisconsin has been a lot more lenient than normal this season versus three-point shooting and Maryland is a phenomenal three-point shooting team. Four shooters (Trimble, Wells, Jake Layman and Jared Nickens) are hitting better than 39 percent of their treys. Who is the streakiest and most dangerous marksman from that group?
Alex: Nickens is a stone-cold gunner. He's a consummate catch-and-shooter who practically never dribbles but, as you mentioned, shoots 40 percent on threes. He's turned over a few games this season with strings of three-pointers over a few minutes, and he's capable of doing it on Tuesday if Mark Turgeon can find the right spots for him.
Trimble, Wells and Layman are Maryland's three best players and have more depth to their offensive games, but -– as you've alluded to –- they'll do a little bit of damage on threes, too.
B5Q: I've been mentioning that Maryland has the size to deal with Wisconsin inside. Would you agree? How does Mark Turgeon's defense contend with Frank Kaminsky?
Alex: Maryland definitely has the size to deal with Wisconsin inside, but I'm not sure it has the skill. Kaminsky is in a different stratosphere from virtually any of Maryland's bigs, and his mix of finesse and power is something Maryland hasn't seen this year. Layman is a traditional small forward, but he's been superb playing the four this year and should match up okay with Sam Dekker, who's also just excellent. But Kaminsky's a lot better than Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky, and he's a lot bigger than Evan Smotrycz and Jon Graham. The Terps might be able to keep him from erupting, but no one should be surprised if he goes for 25 and 10.
If I were coaching Maryland, I'd start Cekovsky, a raw freshman, and have him hack away at Kaminsky throughout the first half before going to Dodd later on. Otherwise, both could get into foul trouble, and Maryland might get stuck using someone on Kaminsky who isn't big enough to cope with the job.
B5Q: For any Badger fans making their first trip to the Xfinity Center area for this game, do you have any bar/restaurant recommendations to make it an enjoyable Tuesday night?
Alex: Try Cornerstone or R.J. Bentley's, a couple of restaurants/bars on Route 1, the main thoroughfare in College Park. They're the most authentically Maryland experiences available.
B5Q: Care to make a prediction for the game?
Alex: On the one hand, Maryland hasn't lost a home game in league play and should have a raucous crowd. And everyone in the stands is going to wear the same gold-colored shirts, which will probably just freak out Bo Ryan and his players. They might be too scared to even play.
On the other hand, the Terps have ridden a wave of good fortune lately, and Wisconsin has what could wind up being the most efficient offense in the history of college basketball. The Badgers are a firing squad, and maybe five or six teams in the country have the defensive pieces to reliably contain them. Maryland plays strong defense, but it isn't at that level. So I think Wisconsin cobbles together enough points to win and heads back to Madison happy.
Wisconsin 83, Maryland 75
Thanks again to Alex for exchanging answers with us. You can find him on Twitter @alex_kirshner and more from his blogmates @TestudoTimes. Don't miss the 6 p.m. CT start for this one, live from College Park, Md.
Join the Badger conversation on Facebook! Go to our Facebook page and "like" us!
For more Wisconsin basketball coverage, follow Phil on Twitter @hoopsmarinara.