The Wisconsin Badgers (25-2, 13-1 Big Ten) remain the No. 5 team in the country this week, beating rival Minnesota at the Kohl Center on Saturday to extend their winning streak to double digits. Sophomore Bronson Koenig set a new career high in scoring during that battle, knocking in 17 points and furthering his case as the permanent starter in Madison. Frank Kaminsky also contributed his usual 20-point scoring night.
Hosting the Badgers tonight are the No. 14 Maryland Terrapins (22-5, 10-4), who haven't lost at home yet during their first year of Big Ten play, going a picture perfect 7-0 in College Park. Head coach Mark Turgeon's squad is currently on a three-game winning streak and may pose some problems for the cool-as-can-be Badgers basketball squad. The Terrapins' offense relies on versatile freshman point guard Melo Trimble, whose ability to drive in the lane opens up for the great three-point shooting wings, Jake Layman and Dez Wells. The Terrapins also have the height and front court depth to play with Kaminsky, as freshman center Michal Cekovsky stands at 7'1.
However, Wisconsin's offense continues to be more efficient and dangerous than any other in the country. With the trio of front court scorers along with the improved scoring from Koenig, the Badgers won't have much difficulty scoring on the Maryland defense, that gives up an average of 64.3 points per contest.
Key Matchups to Watch
Josh Gasser vs. Dez Wells
Maryland Q&A: B5Q grills Testudo Times
The stage is set for Wisconsin to clinch a share of the Big Ten regular season title on Tuesday night. We chatted with a Maryland insider to size up this year's Terrapins.
Josh Gasser just joined one of the most exclusive clubs in the history of UW's program, joining Michael Finley as the only Badgers to score 1,000 points, cash in 500 rebounds, and distribute 250 assists. Gasser never is really a big threat on the offensive end, and he doesn't have to be. He can hit the occasional clutch three and provide some quality work while spacing the floor.
Gasser just so happens to be one of the best perimeter defenders the Big Ten has to offer, and Wells is one of the better defenders in the country, especially while patrolling the arc. Offensively, Wells is currently shooting an astounding 51 percent from behind the arc. If Gasser can make his defensive shifts and use productive footwork, he can keep up with the hot shooting wing, and force him into the lane.
Melo Trimble vs. Bronson Koenig
This will be a huge test for Koenig, as Bo Ryan usually plays Gasser against the opposing team's top scorer, but Ryan is planning to play Koenig against Melo Trimble in this conference showdown. This may show Ryan's trust in the up-and-coming point guard, as he is now giving the sophomore more responsibilities, mainly on the defensive end. Melo Trimble has proven to a great playmaker for Mark Turgeon and the Terrapin faithful, with his knack for driving into the lane, and either dropping in a layup or kicking the ball out to the deadly shooters for Maryland. Trimble has also proven to have a solid three-point shot himself, as he has made 39.5 percent from downtown. If Koenig can slow down the Terrapins' top scorer, it could go a long way in picking up a win and keeping his spot in the starting lineup.
The Badger bench hasn't proven to have consistent, capable scorers, as Duje Dukan's three-point shooting slump continued on Saturday. Bo Ryan usually only plays four deep on the bench, but has limited it to three players with the injury to Traevon Jackson and the promotion of Koenig to starter. Zak Showalter still is a solid defender and Vitto Brown has been a great rebounder with the potential to get some second-chance points on the offensive end.
If this article is about the Maryland-Wisconsin game, I have to give the other team an X-Factor, right? Layman is a deadly three-point shooter, and Nigel Hayes hasn't proved to be a great perimeter defender. The junior forward also plays outstanding defense. With a solid game out of the Layman, the Terrapins will be able to get a leg up if Hayes proves to be ineffective on the offensive end.
Final Thought and Prediction
Two top-15 teams going at it in a conference game makes for great eye candy. However Maryland does not have enough defensive prowess or shot-blocking front court players to stop the best player in the country, Frank Kaminksy. Expect yet another huge night for the Wooden Award candidate. This might be the last game for Koenig to prove that he deserves the starting point guard spot before Jackson returns, so expect a big night out of him as well. The Badgers use their grit, offensive efficiency, and perimeter defense to win their 11th straight.