Tuesday night's loss to Maryland was a learning experience for Wisconsin. The Badgers were reminded about the quality of the Big Ten and also the value of their missing comrade, Traevon Jackson.
The Terps were able to expose Badger weaknesses with a phenomenal 40-minute effort. Even so, besides the inability to stop a hot Dez Wells, there was a pervasive feeling that a series of small sequences prevented Wisconsin from taking control of the game like it usually does. So I rewatched the entire game yesterday to see if my memory was correct.
Indeed, there were quite a few strings of missed opportunities for Wisconsin. Turns out though, the Badgers didn't play as bad as I had thought. Their second half was very redeeming and more typical of the team we've watched all year. As one example, Bronson Koenig had two great shots rattle in and out during crunch time with the game up for grabs. Plus, Maryland's track record against top 5 teams at home is amazing.
Before discussing ways to fix the issues uncovered in the loss, first here's a (hopefully) therapeutic oral history of Tuesday's bad breaks at the Xfinity Center.
12:19 - Maryland 11, Wisconsin 10
Prior to this moment, Nigel Hayes had drawn several fouls inside on the Terps, so it was really frustrating to see him force an incredibly tough turnaround. Subsequently, UW gets dinged on a pair of touch fouls on Melo Trimble at the other end. Out of a media timeout, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon runs Jared Nickens through a wicked, left-right staggered screen that swallows Zak Showalter. Splash for 3. Gasser wouldn't have had a chance on that play either.
Koenig forces another three-pointer on offense and bad communication on Wells' push ahead leads to a Michal Cekovsky dunk. Maryland goes up six, 16-10.
Terps snap Badgers' 10-game winning streak
The 14th-ranked Terrapins looked like the real deal in handing No. 5 Wisconsin just its third loss of the season, 59-53.
8:32 - Maryland 20, Wisconsin 12
Wells is cooking at this point. Koenig offers up another quick three-point miss, but Hayes masterfully rips away the offensive rebounds from Jake Layman and draws two free throws. The foul by Damonte Dodd puts Wisconsin in position to get bonus free throws for the rest of the half. Unfortunately, Hayes misses both freebies badly, part of a forgettable free throw performance by UW. Even worse, the Badgers won't draw another foul the rest of the half to take advantage of the bonus.
Off the second Hayes miss, Maryland is able to beat the Badgers down the court and Wells converts an acrobatic 'and-one' at Hayes' expense. Up 23-12, Wells exits for a breather with as many points as Wisconsin has.
:02.5 seconds left - Maryland 29, Wisconsin 20
With Maryland inbounding under the basket after a jump ball, Koenig switches onto Trimble on a screen and gets overzealous on the perimeter, allowing his man to beat him toward the basket. Koenig recovers nicely, but Trimble receives the ball, initiates contact and finishes a very tough layup as the horn sounds.
Wisconsin goes right to Frank Kaminsky on the block. The senior spins baseline quickly, totally losing Cekovksy, but his gentle baby hook bounces out. Normally a play Kaminsky nails. Trimbles rolls up the court and throws a ill-advised pass to an unaware Wells, who had his back turned running ahead of Trimble. The ball bounces harmlessly off Well's calf, right back to Trimble. Any other bounce and Hayes likely picks the ball up for a fast break. Such was life on Tuesday.
13:07 - Maryland 37, Wisconsin 35
The Badgers were clicking on offense and defense during its 13-4 run, but this sequence would nip the streak before it overwhelmed the Terrapins. At the high post, Kaminsky appears to fall over while dribbling (aided by Trimble's grab) and just loses the ball. Wells picks it up and dishes to Layman for the dunk. This was the play where Wells leveled Gasser under the rim, although I didn't have a problem with the no-call.
7:48 - Maryland 45, Wisconsin 44
In the midst of UW's one hot-shooting stretch, where the team made four consecutive three-pointers over six possessions. The two empty possessions were both mishandled ball turnovers by Sam Dekker. This one, with the Badgers down just one, was the saddest. Dekker got a steal and a step on Wells at midcourt only to lose his dribble out of bounds under the basket.
6:03 - Tie game
This series of plays is merely an extension of the stymied run discussed above. Thanks to its offensive rebounding and another nice bounce (Nickens' dribble off his own foot rolled right to Trimble) during that sequence, Maryland was able to answer almost every Wisconsin three-pointer immediately with a bucket. Yet Koenig's triple with 6:36 knotted the game at 47-47 to complete the comeback.
After the defense forced a turnover, Koenig drives hard in the lane for a pull up bank shot that dances around the rim -- tempting us with UW's first lead since the game's opening minutes. When it ultimately bounces out, Dukan fights for the rebound with Terrapin arms hacking away at him as he struggles to control the ball. Welp, the referees made an infamous traveling call on the play instead of a foul. Combine the resulting parade to the free throw line (and emphatic dunk) by Wells with two huge Gasser misses from deep and all the Badger momentum would vanish by the under-4 media timeout.
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At the heart of the issue is that the law of averages caught up with Wisconsin finally. Maryland made the big plays -- like Wells getting a piece of Gasser's wide open layup and Trimble's crazy layup over Kaminsky on back-to-back plays around the two-minute mark.
Little did anyone know the worst was yet to come when the Badgers flew home, as they were forced to make an emergency landing and stay in Pittsburgh overnight due to engine trouble, making a long night even longer.
1. Koenig's three-point shooting needs to come within the confines of the offense. Wisconsin has plenty of weapons and Koenig doesn't need to change the type of player he is just because he's hot from outside. He went 1-of-5 from deep in the first half and only the first one, which Koenig sank, came naturally.
2. Switching won't work against elite perimeter players. I shudder to think about what Wisconsin will do against D'Angelo Russell when it plays Ohio State, but Maryland is one of a few teams that was able to exploit this flaw over an entire game. Wells hits jumpers over Hayes, but was aggressive taking anyone else who tried to guard him (Koenig, Dukan) to the hole. Gasser gamely defended Trimble, but the Terp frosh was still quicker than any player in red, which was painfully obvious on switches. Don't expect Bo Ryan to change up this philosophy, but I'm guessing he'll "encourage" his guys to fight through harder -- as he did in the second half on Tuesday -- so the number of necessary switches decreases.
3. If you run the offense through Kaminsky, the three-pointers will start to fall. In a way, I kind of like the timing of the slumps Gasser and Dukan are experience because at least one of them will get back on track by the NCAA Tournament. When both Kaminsky and Dekker are being aggressive and getting touches, those open looks on the perimeter will keep flowing. Patience grasshopper.
The Four Factors
A split, with Maryland having a more decisive advantage in key areas. The Terps outscored the Badgers 10-5 in points off turnovers.
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