A month ago Wisconsin wasn’t even mentioned as a possible N.C.A.A. tournament team. Six wins later, the Badgers are now back in the conversation after starting the season 9-9 and 1-4 in the Big Ten. Still projected to be out of the tournament, Wisconsin can do itself a lot of favors if it can play well over the last seven games, as four of its final regular season games are against ranked teams and they are all on the road.
Proving Wisconsin is an N.C.A.A. tournament team will begin with the Badgers facing No. 2 Maryland on the road Saturday. In the first meeting Jan.9, the Terps won 63-60 thanks to a last second three by sophomore guard Melo Trimble. Pulling the upset against Maryland will be no easy task, as the Terps have won a school-record 27 straight at home and won their six Big Ten home games by an average of 14.8 points. That number is a little deceiving when you consider that Maryland has only won three games at home by double digits, including a 35-point blowout against Ohio State.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (15-9, 7-4 Big Ten) in order to pick up a win against Maryland (22-3, 10-2).
Lay Up: Can Ethan Happ have a bounce-back game?
Happ has been so good for Wisconsin since the Big Ten opening loss to Purdue, but he put together his worst Big Ten game to date Wednesday when he failed to make a field goal for the first time this season (0-for-3) against Nebraska. Despite tying for the team lead with three assists, Happ could never get comfortable against Nebraska on offense and played his fewest minutes (17) since the opener against the Boilermakers (16).
In order for Wisconsin to pull the upset, the Badgers will need Happ to play like he during the first five games of the winning streak, as he was one of Wisconsin’s most consistent players with his ability to play off of Nigel Hayes’ strengths. Since the Purdue loss, Happ had been averaging 13.3 points and shooting 57.9 percent.
Happ played well in the first meeting with Maryland, finishing with 16 points by staying aggressive in attacking the basket and generate high-percentage looks for himself. He also added 11 rebounds and three steals.
Wednesday looked like it was going to be another strong game for Happ, starting the game on the first offensive possession by pivoting off a post touch and drawing an early foul. But Happ missed both of his free throws and was mostly invisible on offense.
Wisconsin likely can’t afford another poor game by Happ if it wants to register some road upsets in the coming weeks. The good news for Wisconsin was Vitto Brown has picked up his level of play over the last four games, shooting 17-for-24 (70.8 percent) from the field, 6-for-10 from three and averaging 12 points in that span. It’s proved to be a much needed lift for UW and likely adds another weapon against a Maryland defense allowing only 64 points per game.
Mid-Range Jumper: Staying hot from the perimeter
Wisconsin has been very good from the 3-point line over the last two games, having shot 24-for-45 (53.3 percent) to win consecutive games by at least 10 points for the first time since the first week of the season.
The season-high 13 3-pointers against Ohio State and the 11 against Nebraska were the only two times UW had made at least 10 3-pointers in a game this season. How does Wisconsin keep that hot shooting alive against a Maryland defense that ranks third in the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage defense (29.7 percent)? Simply put, Wisconsin must continue spacing the floor and generating post touches. Maryland has the length to prevent these two areas but Wisconsin can’t veer too far from what has been the basis of its offense under head coach Greg Gard.
Most Big Ten teams haven’t solved the riddle of Maryland’s perimeter defense. The Terps have held Big Ten teams to 27.2 percent from 3-point range (68-for-250) and allowed only Michigan to shot above 40 percent (41.4 percent). Michigan State is tied for first in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting (42.2) but made only 30.4 percent against the Terps.
In order to have success from three, Wisconsin has to rely on multiple players and one will have to be Bronson Koenig. The team leader in 3-point shooting at 39.2 percent on 5.9 shots per game, Koenig has made at least one 3-pointer in 35 straight games. Zak Showalter has also shown to be reliable (37.1 percent on 2.9 shot attempts) but Wisconsin will need for either Brown or Hayes to connect from outside in order to stretch Maryland’s defense.
3-Pointer: Containing Melo Trimble
Trimble leads Maryland in scoring at 14.4 points per game, is one of eight rotation players shooting over 45 percent and is fifth in the Big Ten with 5.3 assists per game. In short, Wisconsin’s defense will have its hands full with Trimble’s ability to impact the game in a variety of ways. In the first meeting, Trimble scored a team-high 21 points, 13 of which came in the second half, but UW’s backcourt prevented him from going on large scoring runs by keeping him in front of them for most of the game.
In what could be good news for the Badgers, Trimble has struggled with his shot as of late. In Saturday win over Purdue, Trimble shot 2-for-12 from the field. In the win against Iowa Jan.28, he shot 2-for-7. If Wisconsin is going to end Maryland’s home streak, Showalter or Koenig will need to be able to force Trimble to shoot from the perimeter, as he’s only making 34.1 percent of those shots this season. That number is down from his freshman season (41.2 percent).
Seven of Trimble’s 17 shots came from 3-point range in the first meeting against Wisconsin. In conference play, 39.3 percent of his attempts have come from the perimeter. One thing the Wisconsin backcourt can’t allow Trimble to do is consistently drive to the basket and finish at the rim or distribute the ball. Wisconsin allowed Maryland to score 28 points down low, 18 of which came in the first half.
Trimble does a good job of using his body to create lanes to drive to the rim but that also has resulted in miscues. Trimble leads Maryland with 2.5 turnovers per game and Maryland’s 13 turnovers a game ranks 12th in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin will have to find ways to creating extra offensive possessions for itself by forcing Maryland into high-turnover situations. There has been only two conference games where Maryland has committed single-digit turnovers, but Wisconsin has forced its last five opponents into double-digit turnovers. Wisconsin averages 14.2 points off of team turnovers in conference play, which included scoring 18 points off Maryland’s mistakes last month. It would behoove Wisconsin to equal that number.