Terps Host Badgers in Critical Big Ten Matchup; Maryland can make a statement Monday night
Winners of five straight games, the most recent being a home win over No. 22 Indiana Friday night, Maryland (14-3, 5-1) has a quick turnaround to navigate as Wisconsin (11-5, 3-2) visits the Xfinity Center Monday night. With Michigan and Michigan State currently atop the conference standings with matching 6-0 records, the Terrapins are the lone Big Ten team with just one loss. That makes Monday’s matchup with the Badgers a big one when it comes to the team’s chances in the battles for both the regular season title and a top-four seed in the Big Ten tournament (which means a double-bye).
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Take care of business at home and Maryland maintains that one-game lead over three teams that already have two conference losses (Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue, with the Boilermakers having already beaten Maryland in West Lafayette) while also remaining a game back of the Wolverines and Spartans. A loss and Maryland drops into that crowded midsection, which would be a tough blow to take when considering the fact that the team’s next two games are road affairs at Ohio State and Michigan State.
Beating Wisconsin, which has lost its last three trips to College Park, won’t be an easy task either. Greg Gard’s team, while healthier than it was a season ago, is once again led by All-American senior forward Ethan Happ. The 6-foot-8 Happ (20.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 4.8 apg, 1.3 bpg) leads the Badgers in scoring, rebounding and assists and is second on the team in blocked shots while shooting better than 57 percent from the field.
Happ isn’t the best shooter outside of the paint, as evidenced by his four three-point attempts (all misses) and 49.3% figure at the foul line, but unlike some players who will hoist up shots they have no business taking there’s no confusion on his part. It’s easy to look at his game and say “keep him out of the paint and Maryland should be fine,” but saying this and actually doing it are two entirely different things (and it isn’t easy to keep him from his preferred spots, either).
Happ will be the focal point of what many Wisconsin opponents do on the defensive end of the floor, and that will likely be the case for Maryland as well. The good news for the Terps is that in Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith, they’ve got one of the best big man tandems in college basketball. Those two will need to stay out of early foul trouble when guarding Happ if Maryland’s to hold serve at home.
Happ’s joined in the front court by sophomore Nathan Reuvers and senior Khalil Iverson, with the former leading the Badgers in blocks with an average of 1.8 per game. The 6-foot-10 Reuvers has been better offensively this season, averaging 7.6 points per game while shooting 50.5 percent from the field. And as a 36.1percent shooter from beyond the arc (2.3 attempts per game), he isn’t wholly uncomfortable away from the basket. That can be critical when playing alongside a forward like Happ, who as noted above is not a perimeter shooter.
As for Iverson, the 6-foot-5 wing’s scoring has dipped considerably from last season, as he’s averaging 4.9 points per game after accounting for 8.6 per in 2017-18. He’s doing this on just 3.6 shot attempts per game, with Happ and guard D’Mitrik Trice being the lone Badgers averaging double digits in shots per game. Iverson’s second on the team in steals however and he’s also averaging 4.5 rebounds in just over 24 minutes per game, so those are the areas in which he’s likely to have the most impact.
The perimeter rotation is led by the trio of Trice and sophomore Brad Davison, who are averaging a combined 24.8 points per game. Trice is back in the fold after playing in just ten games last season due to injury, and Davison had his own injury issues (shoulder) to deal with in 2017-18. Both are healthy now, and they’ve been Wisconsin’s best perimeter shooters thus far. Trice is shooting just over 47 percent from three on 5.8 three-point attempts per game, with Davison making 44.8 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
Brevin Pritzl, Kobe King and Aleem Ford provide depth off the bench, with Pritzl and King averaging 5.3 and 5.1 points per game, respectively. Wisconsin essentially has an eight-man rotation, and they prefer to play at a deliberate pace. The Badgers take good care of the basketball and do a good job of getting the shots that they want on most offensive possessions. Wisconsin’s 92 three-point attempts in conference games rank tenth in the Big Ten, but the team is making a league-best 38 percent of those shots and the Badgers are also ranked second in the conference in overall field goal percentage.
For Maryland the game will come down to how it values its offensive possessions. Turnovers have been an issue for the Terps in league play, with the team currently dead last in the Big Ten with 78. Wisconsin isn’t a pressure defensive team, but the Badgers’ pace can lead to undisciplined teams doing so much in an attempt to speed things up that they make mistakes with the basketball. Maryland can ill-afford to fall into that trap, which places the onus on Anthony Cowan Jr. and Eric Ayala to make sound decisions as the team’s primary distributors.
Turnovers and interior play will have a major impact on the outcome of this matchup, a game that Maryland needs to win with the slate getting tougher over the next week. Is Maryland a serious Big Ten title contender? A win Monday night would be the first step towards answering that question in the affirmative.