Wisconsin faces its first top-10 opponent of the season when No.3 Maryland visits Saturday afternoon

Before Wisconsin takes on No.3 Maryland at the Kohl Center Saturday afternoon, Badger Nation looks at the three burning questions we're looking to have answered.

It has been a rough start to Wisconsin’s season with numerous close losses and frustrating performances, the latest being the 59-58 loss at Indiana Tuesday. The one-point loss marked the fourth time this season Wisconsin lost by two points or less, making it abundantly clear that the Badgers are struggling to close out games.

Wisconsin will be tested once again on Saturday when No. 3 Maryland comes to Madison for the first time since 2004. This will mark the fourth time Wisconsin has faced a ranked team this season, having gone 1-2 in those matchups with losses to No.7 Oklahoma and No.14 Purdue coming by an average of 12 points. Although Wisconsin hasn’t fared too well in top 25 matchups this season, the Badgers have won six of their last eight games against teams that are ranked in the top five over the last three seasons.   

In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (9-7, 1-2 Big Ten) in order to pick up a win against No. 3 Maryland (14-1, 3-0).

Lay up: The play of Nigel Hayes

Hayes has been struggling all season with his shot. When it looks like he is turning the corner, he’ll deliver a poor shooting performance. Over the last five games Hayes has three outings where he shot less than 29 percent from the field. In the other two games Hayes has shot 42.9 percent (6-for-14) against Purdue and 87.5 percent (7-for-8) against Green Bay. Over the last five games Hayes has averaged four made field goals on an average of 9.8 attempts a game, as people now question his decision to alter his jump shot to quicken his release.

Despite leading the team in scoring (15.7 ppg), Hayes is shooting 37.4 percent from the field, far away from his career average of 50.1 percent from the field. The difference between this year and the last two seasons was Hayes had other players that could help take pressure off of him in scoring. With Hayes now being one of the key focal points, opposing teams will naturally game plan for him.

Shooting only 28.6 percent from 3-point range this season, Hayes needs to develop consistency and an aggressiveness around the hoop to generate high percentage shots, as there were times where he avoided contact against Indiana. At the very least he needs to try and draw a foul against one of Maryland’s frontcourt players. Hayes has attempted a season-high 120 free throws, as the four other starters have combined for 148 free throw attempts. If Hayes can find success down low, it could allow him to create space for himself when he’s on the perimeter to get a clean look off.

Whether it’s Jake Layman or Robert Carter defending him, Hayes will need to be strong with the ball, as Layman and Carter have registered 18 and 15 steals this season, respectively. After committing no turnovers through the first three games, Hayes has only done it once since and is averaging 3.2 turnovers over his last five games.

Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin win the rebounding battle?

After out rebounding its first 13 opponents, Wisconsin is struggling on the boards in conference play. While dominating Rutgers last weekend, Wisconsin was out manned by Purdue and tied Indiana with only 27 rebounds each.

Maryland ranks 10th in the Big Ten in rebounds, averaging 36 rebounds a game, but make up for it with its defensive rebounding. The Terps have outrebounded 11 of its 15 opponents, are first in the Big Ten allowing 29.3 rebounds per game and are fifth in the conference with a plus 6.7 rebound margin.

Wisconsin has been consistent rebounding, averaging 38.6 rebounds a game and 30 through three Big Ten games. Through Maryland’s first three Big Ten games, the Terrapins have allowed 32.6 rebounds a game, which includes allowing a season-high 40 rebounds against Northwestern.

Despite the shooting struggles on offense, Wisconsin has done well generating second chance opportunities and lead the conference with 13.4 offensive rebounds a game. The Badgers have done well of boxing out and making sure they can at least give their offense another chance of converting. UW averages 13.4 points off second-chance opportunities and will need to find a way to up that number against Maryland. The Terps allow only 63.8 points a game, which ranks fifth in the Big Ten, and give up an average of 18.4 points per game off offensive rebounds.

Wisconsin won’t be able to afford many misses around the rim, so using pump fakes and attacking the rim quickly after missed shots will be vital.

3-pointer: Disrupting the balance

After successfully slowing down Indiana’s high-scoring offense, Wisconsin will face a Maryland team that boasts five players that average double figures in scoring, the only conference team to boast that achievement. Melo Trimble leads the way averaging 14.4 points a game but it coming off a Wednesday win over Rutgers in which he tweaked a hamstring and was limited to four points in 14 minutes.

Even if Trimble isn’t full strength against Wisconsin, there are still plenty of scoring options and high percentage shooters. The five players who average double figures for Maryland all shoot better than 47 percent from the field, as freshman Diamond Stone (13.2 ppg) leads the team with a 59.5 field goal percentage on an average of 8.4 field goal attempts a game.

It is pick your poison for Wisconsin’s defense on who they want to defend. Any player for Maryland’s offense can hurt them. Trimble – shooting 48.1 percent and 39.4 percent from 3-point range - can beat players off the dribble or create space in order to get a clean shot off. Even if UW can take away the dribble penetration, Trimble is fifth in the conference with 5.7 assists per game.

With Maryland shooting 50.9 percent as a team, Wisconsin’s backcourt need to cut off easy passing lanes into the post to Maryland’s talented frontcourt players. On the season Wisconsin allows 28.1 points in the paint (26.6 points in Big Ten play). Averaging 23.7 point inside, Maryland scored a season-high 50 points in the paint in the season opener but have also registered three games where they’ve scored six points or fewer.

Like any top five team, Maryland has balance. In addition to taking advantage of passive teams, Maryland shoots 38.7 percent from 3-point range and average 9.6 offensive rebounds a game. Rasheed Sulaimon is Maryland’s most dangerous 3-point shooter, shooting 50 percent on an average of four shot attempts. Wisconsin will need to be able to consistently get a hand in his face. If Sulaimon gets his feet set with no hand in his face, he’ll make Wisconsin pay for the poor defense. 

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