COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The teams that survive in March typically improve as the season wears on, and it’s certainly looking like Maryland is on an upward trajectory. The 22-4 Terps put together perhaps their most complete Big Ten performance of the season in their last game against a tough Northwestern squad on the road. UMD, behind a rejuvenated Melo Trimble (32 points) playing with a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder after a string of un-Melo-like offensive performances, dominated offensively; defensively; and on the boards in the 74-64 victory.
And not only did Trimble revert to form, but the Terps also saw defensive stalwart Damonte Dodd shine on the offensive end (12 points); Justin Jackson re-find his 3-point stroke; Anthony Cowan continue his stretch of strong play; and five bench pieces contribute valuable minutes once again.
“I’m surprised, but I’m not surprised. These guys just keep doing it and it’s amazing,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “If you would have told me at the beginning of the season we’d be where we are, I’d of said no way. It’s been fun; it’s been a great group to coach. We’re going to keep answering the bell.
“And I think we’re getting better. I really do. We’re becoming a deeper deep, and it’s exciting. There’s a lot of potential to play better as the season goes on…. I think since the Penn Sate game we’ve really been practicing well. It’s the time of year when you want to be playing well and practicing well. That’s what’s important to me.”
Maryland will have another chance to prove itself and get better in its next matchup.
For the one and only time during the regular season, the top two Big Ten teams square off -- and they’ll do so Feb. 19 at the Kohl Center. The Terps travel to Madison, Wisc., for a 1 p.m. date against the Badgers.
Sure, some of the luster has worn off considering the Badgers (21-5 10-3 Big Ten) just lost to Michigan on the road and are on a two-game skid (albeit, without one of their best players). The game prior, they fell to Northwestern, the team the Terps just knocked off, at home Feb. 12.
Beyond that blip, though, Wisconsin had dismantled the Big Ten with a deep, balanced squad that prides itself on discipline, defense and rebounding. Indeed, the Badgers aren’t the flashiest or most aesthetically pleasing squad around, but their length and rugged style frustrates opposing attacks.
“We approach every game the same. Our guys get it. Wisconsin was picked to win the league. They have really good players, great coach, and they’re really good at home,” Turgeon said. “[The Badgers] were a hard matchup last year when we were big. It’ll be interesting to see. These guys are a much bigger team across the board. I think the world of Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig is a heck of a player, Zak Showalter is tremendous and Vito Brown always plays well against us. And then Ethan Happ is arguably their best player this year and does it on both ends. We’ll do the best we can to guard him.”
Wisconsin ranks first in the Big Ten in scoring defense (60.4 points per game), third in field-goal percentage defense (40.2 percent) and first in defensive rebounding. The Badgers also have a few sticky-fingered mainstays that collectively come up with more than seven steals a night (second in Big Ten), while the team as a whole has a plus-2.0 turnover margin (second in Big Ten). Interestingly, though, the Badgers aren’t quite as adept stymying the 3-point shot (36.6 percent, 12th in Big Ten), nor are they particularly proficient shot blockers (11th in Big Ten).
Offensively, Wisconsin's methodical approach and lack of firepower lends to some rather pedestrian numbers. The Badgers can still be dangerous at times, however, especially if opponents don’t rotate on their shooters and allow them second-chance opportunities.
Wisconsin is seventh in the league in scoring (73 points per), sixth in field-goal percentage (46 percent), eighth in 3-point shooting (35 percent) and only 12th in free-throw percentage (67 percent). But the Badgers do typically limit mistakes and move the ball well (sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio), and they’re middle-of-the-pack in offensive rebounding. It’s also worth noting the Badgers rarely foul, so their best players rarely ride pine for extended periods.
Wisconsin features a number of key contributors, but it starts up top with senior point guard Bronson Koenig, who missed the Michigan bout and is questionable to suit up against the Terps. The Badgers’ mainstay is second on the team in scoring at 13.4 points per game. He’s shooting at a 42 percent clip, 38 percent from range and 88 percent from the line. But although Koenig can put the ball in the bucket, much of his value is as a ball-handler. The longtime starter sees the floor as well as anyone in the conference and turns the ball over just over once a night.
“We fully expect [Koenig] to play,” said Turgeon, who mentioned Dion Wiley is still out with a back injury and might start working out Feb. 20 if all goes well. “The kid has missed one game his whole career due to injury. We 100 percent expect him to play.”
Next to Koenig is another senior, Zak Showalter, who averages eight points per game on 48.3 percent from the field and 38 percent from deep. Showalter, like his backcourt mate, is a fairly proficient handler, rarely coughing the ball up, and he’s known for his defense as well.
The main backup at guard is freshman D’Mitrik Trice, who may be Koenig’s successor. Trice plays around 17 minutes a night, averaging 5.5 points on 43 percent from the field and 46 percent from deep. He’ll drop a dime or two when he’s on the floor too.
At wing is a third senior, Vito Brown, one of three frontcourt starters who are 6-8 or taller. Brown scores almost 7.3 a night and connects at a 40.5 percent rate, but he shoots only 30 percent from 3. Brown chips in around four boards per game as well.
Rotating in with Brown is sophomore Khalil Iverson, who plays 15 minutes a game. Iverson usually adds a couple baskets and a couple rebounds during his limited action.
In the post, Nigel Hayes (yes, another senior) ranks third on the team at 13.3 points per. Hayes shoots 45 percent from the field and can also knock down a triple every once in awhile (30 percent). Hayes contributes a half-dozen rebounds and a steal each game as well. But the senior is known for his ability to find his teammates -- inside and out -- Hayes leading the squad at almost three assists a night.
Finally, at center, is sophomore Ethan Happ, who is the team’s most complete all-around performer. Happ, who has the ball almost as often as the point guard Koenig, shines on both ends of the floor, anchoring Wisconsin in scoring (14.5 points per); rebounds (nine per); blocks (29 total); and steals (two per). He shoots at a Badgers’ best 60 percent from the field and is second in assists. Happ’s Achilles’ heel, however, is free-throw shooting, where he’s just 51 percent from the line.
“We might have to play bigger lineups. It depends on how the game goes. The good thing is we have the versatility to do that,” Turgeon said. “You might see Ceko [Michal Cekovsky] and Damonte together, Ivan [Bender] and Ceko together. It depends how they play. They’ve been going small a little more lately. They actually played Vito Brown at the ‘5’ a little bit the last couple games. We have to adjust as they adjust their lineup. … But we’re looking forward to the opportunity and we just want to keep getting better.”