Losing back-to-back games for the first time this season, Wisconsin returns to a home venue it has been historically tough in to play a Maryland team that has been excellent on the road during Big Ten play (6-1). With Wisconsin dropping back in to a three-way tie for first place with Maryland and Purdue, the Terrapins will enter the Kohl Center with plenty of confidence considering the Terps won at the Kohl Center last season and beat Northwestern – the same team that won at the KC last Sunday – on the road Wednesday.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (21-5, 10-3 Big Ten) as they prepare to play Maryland (22-4, 10-3).
LAY UP: CAN WISCONSIN WIN THE REBOUNDING BATTLE?
Having won the rebounding battle in eight Big Ten games, the Badgers post a plus-1.9 edge on the glass in conference play to rank third. Maryland has posted a plus-0.4, ranking seventh. In order for Wisconsin to beat the Terps on the glass, the Badgers need to effectively box out Justin Jackson, who leads Maryland with 163 rebounds. Jackson isn’t alone in attacking the glass, as Maryland has three players who have registered at least 100 rebounds. Kevin Huerter has also been strong on the glass with the ability to limit opponents to one shot per possession and ranks with Jackson in the top 12 in defensive rebounds per game.
While his scoring has been up and down over the last three games, Ethan Happ has been able to find ways of collecting offensive rebounds and averages 2.9 per contest, which ranks fifth in Big Ten play. Happ will have a challenge in battling for the rebounds against Maryland but it is important that he finds success in generating those second chances for a Wisconsin’s offense that continues to struggle to find the bottom of the net.
Although Jackson and Huerter are strong attacking the defensive glass, opposing Big Ten teams have averaged 12.5 offensive rebounds per game and 10.4 second-chance points. The Badgers have given themselves opportunities to clean up their messes, averaging 12.6 offensive rebounds a game and scoring 11.5 second-chance points. The key is converting.
MID-RANGE JUMPER: CAN WISCONSIN HAVE SUCCESS IN THE PAINT?
Wisconsin averaged 35 points in the lane and scored 48.1 percent of its points inside over its first six Big Ten games. The Badgers haven’t been able to find that same kind of consistency over the last seven games, seeing that scoring plummet to 26.5 points in the paint.
Part of that is due to Happ being consistently double teamed in the post the last three games, but the Badgers have only scored 30-plus points in the paint twice in the last seven games. One of those games was Thursday against Michigan, as the Badgers’ 36 points snapped a four-game streak of scoring under 30. But even though UW found interior success, the end result was still maddening.
Wisconsin went 10-for-16 in the paint in the first half to build a one-point lead, scoring 22 of its 31 first-half points in the lane. Too many point blank misses later, however, caused UW to go 7-for-21 in the lane after halftime, causing the game to slip away from them.
Happ is a big reason why Wisconsin has success in the paint and he showed his value to the team at Michigan. When he’s having success, it helps open up other opportunities and creates an offensive balance. Happ needs help from his teammates to create spacing on the floor, especially against a Maryland team allowing only 28.6 points in the paint during conference play.
Although Maryland has allowed its past two opponents to register at least 30 points in the paint, the Terrapins’ strong post defense is thanks to the ability to alter shots with an average of 4.6 blocks a contest, fourth in Big Ten play. Happ has struggled with double teams over the last three games, especially with the teams who have the personnel capable of blocking shots. If Maryland can neutralize Happ, who has been Wisconsin most consistent offensive player, the cold-shooting Badgers could be in for real trouble.
3-POINTER: DISRUPTING MARYLAND’S BALANCE ON OFFENSE
Maryland has been a balanced offense since Big Ten play started, ranking in the top four in points per game (74.8 points per game), field goal percentage (46.2 percent), 3-point percentage (39.9 percent) and assists (14.8 assists per game). Simply put, Maryland isn’t going to beat itself by making a mistake with the ball or rushing a shot. If Wisconsin is going to have success defensively, it is going to be a team effort.
A stout defensive unit this season, Wisconsin has shown some cracks in recent weeks by allowing its last four opponents to shoot above 40 percent from the field and register 50 assists on 94 made field goals. That’s a stat that will certainly make Melo Trimble salivate.
After shooting 30.7 percent (16-for-52) from the field his previous four games, Trimble scored a career-high 32 points in the win at Northwestern on an impressive 12-of-17 shooting from the field. Zak Showalter was able to make Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh work for his shots and take Michigan’s Derrick Walton out of the game, although the latter registered a team-high eight assists. If Trimble’s shot isn’t falling, he can lean on his teammates to help pick up the slack offensively. The Terps’ point guard is averaging 4.2 assists over conference play.
Because of his rebounding, Jackson (11.0 ppg) has shown to be consistent for Maryland and at times the go-to scorer for Maryland’s offense. Jackson has hit a rough patch of late with his shot, shooting 30.7 percent (8-for-26) from the field over the last three game, but the freshman was dominant in back-to-back road wins at Minnesota and Ohio State with 50 points on 17-for-27 from the field and 22 rebounds.
Nigel Hayes will draw the defensive assignment of Jackson and has to make sure he can’t serve as another option for Trimble on the offensive end. Jackson does a good job of taking care of the ball for a freshman, only averaging 1.8 turnovers a game, so Hayes’ reputation as a strong defender will be tested.
Creating turnovers against Maryland is critical. The Terrapins average 12.7 turnovers a game and the Badgers have registered at least 13 points off turnovers six times in the last seven games. If Wisconsin can generate easy points in transition, it could help provide the spark the offense desperately needs.