Game 27 Preview and Prediction: Wisconsin vs. Maryland

Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Preview: The Wisconsin Badgers Men’s Basketball team returns to action Sunday afternoon as they host the 23rd-ranked Maryland Terrapins at the Kohl Center. The game is scheduled to tip-off at 12:00p.m. on CBS.

After losses to Northwestern and Michigan, the Badgers will look to avoid falling out of first place in the Big Ten Standings. Entering play on Saturday, Wisconsin is in a 3-way tie with Purdue and Maryland with a 10-3 conference record. Purdue takes on Michigan State at 3:00p.m. on Saturday.

Maryland comes into Madison off back-to-back wins against Ohio State and Northwestern as the Terrapins boast an overall record of 22-4. Maryland is currently ranked 17th in the RPI rankings with their top wins coming against Minnesota, Oklahoma State, and Northwestern. The Terps are 3-1 against RPI Top-50 opponents; their only loss was a 72-73 defeat to Purdue on February 4th. Maryland does have some questionable losses this season as they have fallen to three teams outside the RPI Top-50: Pittsburgh, Nebraska, and Penn State.

The Terps are led by guard, Melo Trimble; who leads Maryland with 17.2 points per game and 1.2 steals per game. The junior also posts 3.5 rpg, 3.5 apg and 44.4% shooting from the field. Trimble isn’t doing it alone however, as he is getting help from a trio of freshman led by forward Justin Jackson. Jackson leads the Terps with 6.3rpg to go along with 11.0ppg. The freshman can also spread the floor as he has connected on 36 three-pointers this season on 80 attempts (45.0%).

The other two freshman of note are guards Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter. Cowan is averaging 10.7ppg, 4.0rpg, 3.7apg. and 1.2spg. While Huerter contributes 9.0ppg and 5.0rpg.

After previewing this Maryland squad, what do the Badgers need to do Sunday to end their two-game skid?

  1. Nigel Hayes needs to be more assertive: In the absence of Bronson Koenig against Michigan on Thursday, the Badgers were looking for major production from their other three senior starters. Hayes, Vitto Brown, and Zak Showalter combined for 14 points on 5-for-19 shooting. The Badgers need more production from Hayes, who didn’t attempt a single free throw in Thursday’s loss. Hayes has proven unstoppable in spurts this season when he drives to the basket and works in the low post; as defenders are left a step-behind resulting in an easy finish for Nigel or a foul. Look for Hayes to be more assertive Sunday in what may be the biggest game of his senior campaign to date.
  2. Play with the lead in the final 10 minutes: We all understand the Badgers offensive struggles recently; these struggles have allowed opponents to go on runs and ultimately force the Badgers to play from behind late in games. This will prove even more important on Sunday as Melo Trimble has proven to be one of the most ‘clutch’ players in the conference and one of the most consistent free-throw shooters late in games. If the Badgers trail late, they most likely will be trading buckets with a pair of made free throws from Trimble.
  3. Play a Badgers brand of basketball: Wisconsin returns to their home floor in need of a big victory. We know the Kohl Center will be rockin’ but will we see the same sluggish, turnover-prone offense from the Badgers on Sunday? Wisconsin has to take more pride in protecting the basketball and getting to the free throw line. The play of Ethan Happ has proven consistent over Big Ten play, but who will step up Sunday to help keep the Badgers on top of the Big Ten conference; in my opinion it needs to be a complete team effort.

Thorson’s Prediction: BADGERS 63 Maryland 60 (Thorson is 21-2 on the season) At the time of writing this article, the status of senior guard Bronson Koenig is still undetermined, but my prediction holds true in either situation, here’s why…Koenig has been relatively ineffective ever since this calf injury came about sometime between the Penn State and Rutgers games, as result the Badgers offense has become sluggish and doesn’t have a ‘go-to’ scoring option down the stretch. But this stretch has now gone on for too long for Greg Gard and his staff to not have an answer. And the answer hinges on playing ‘elite’ defense, taking care of the basketball, and Nigel Hayes playing like a member of the All Big-Ten Conference First Team.

According to Kenpom rankings, the Badgers have the most efficient defense in the Big Ten conference and are currently ranked 7th in the country on this end of the floor. This defense has allowed 61.8 ppg in Big Ten play, which includes three overtime periods; in regulation time they have allowed 59.5ppg. I expect this stout defense to continue Sunday on their home floor with an understanding that Melo Trimble is going to get his points but don’t allow him to get consistent production from his trio of freshman who have never seen a defensive unit as solid as the Badgers.

This carries on to many Badgers fans concern over the play of Koenig’s replacement D’Mitrik Trice. The freshman guard was 2-for-15 from the floor Thursday night as Trice recorded nine points in his first career start. First of all, Trice should have never been in a position to take this many shots, Hayes was non-existent on the offensive end and Brown stopped shooting after an 0-for-5 start. If anything I am actually encouraged that Trice was willing to take that many shots, because if he’s in that position again Sunday, D’Mitrik is too good of a shooter to only make two. Second, Trice had four assists, four free throw attempts, and two turnovers in his first ever road start against a much-improved Wolverines team. Trice proved to be the most assertive Badger behind Ethan Happ on Thursday night and I think he’s in for a better performance Sunday if called upon to start again.

There are many concerns and questions leading into Sundays game with Maryland but the Badgers have always proven to me that they have a response; and I expect that response to come Sunday afternoon with a top-25 victory!

2016-17 Big Ten Basketball Preview

Big Ten play begins tonight as InsideWisconsin insiders Caleb King and Ben Thorson breakdown the Big Ten and its top players to watch as conference play begins.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding this Big Ten season per usual, as three conference teams find themselves in the AP-Top 25. Wisconsin leads the way with an 11-2 record and are currently ranked 14th in the country; as Purdue, also 11-2, follows at number 15, and Indiana is the 16th ranked team in the land after a 10-2 non-conference record.

Here is a list of opening conference games for all B1G Teams:

Tuesday, December 27th (CT):

Northwestern at Penn State (2:00pm, ESPN2)

Illinois at Maryland (4:00pm, ESPN2)

Rutgers at 14 Wisconsin (6:00pm, ESPN2)

Michigan State at Minnesota (8:00pm, ESPN2)

Wednesday, December 28th (CT): 

Nebraska at 16 Indiana (5:30pm, BTN)

Iowa at 15 Purdue (7:30pm, BTN)

Sunday, January 1st (CT):

Michigan at Iowa (1:15pm, BTN)

Ohio State at Illinois (6:00pm, BTN)

And here is a breakdown of each team during non-conference play, and the top players to watch for in the upcoming months:

The Heavyweights:

Indiana (10-2)

Top Victories: Kansas (12 in RPI), North Carolina (15)

Top Players: James Blackmon Jr. (18.5ppg 5.4rpg), OG Anunoby (12.0ppg 6.3 rpg 1.7bpg), Thomas Bryant (12.0ppg 7.8rpg 1.5bpg)

Indiana has the two most impressive wins amongst Big Ten teams in non-conference play as they defeated Kansas and North Carolina. They also have one of the worst losses as they were defeated by Fort Wayne. Can the Hoosiers be consistent enough over the next 18 games to win the Big Ten?

Wisconsin (11-2)

Top Victory: Georgetown (59)

Top Players: Nigel Hayes (13.5ppg 5.8rpg 3.4apg), Bronson Koenig (14.6ppg 2.3rpg 2.1apg), Ethan Happ (12.9ppg 9.5rpg 2.8apg 1.5spg)

Wisconsin is the most experienced team entering 2017 as their senior class has an 11-3 record in the NCAA Tournament, including two trips to the Final Four. Can Greg Gard get his offensive efficiency to where it was in 2015? If so, the Badgers will be the favorites in a congested Big Ten.

Purdue (11-2)

Top Victory: Auburn (42)

Top Players: Caleb Swanigan (18.3ppg 12.5rpg 3.0apg), Isaac Haas (14.3ppg 5.2rpg), Vince Edwards (11.8ppg 5.2rpg 3.8apg)

Purdue boasts one of the best front courts in the country with Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. Many will argue that Swanigan is the top player in the conference, as the sophomore dominated non-conference play with 18.3 points per game and 12.5 rebounds. The Boilermakers are the stiffest challenge day-in and day-out in the conference. Will this lead to the Big Ten crown?

The Contenders:

Michigan (10-3)

Top Victory: SMU (49)

Top Players: Zak Irvin (14.1ppg 4.9rpg 3.5apg), Derrick Walton Jr. (12.4ppg 4.0rpg 3.8apg)

Senior guard Zak Irvin is off to an impressive start this season as he leads the Wolverines with 14.1ppg. Michigan is loaded with talent but lack consistency. Michigan dominated Marquette and Southern Methodist, but struggled in blowout losses to UCLA and South Carolina. Avoiding losses to Michigan, may be the key for the heavyweights to separate themselves from the pack.

Ohio State (10-3)

Top Victory: Providence (37)

Top Players: Jae’Sean Tate (14.3ppg 6.8rpg), Trevor Thompson (10.7ppg 9.2rpg 1.8bpg)

The Buckeyes are similar to Michigan, the talent is evident, but will the talent show up every night? So far this season, the Buckeyes have a head-scratching loss to Florida Atlantic, while hanging tough in defeats to UCLA and Virginia.

Michigan State (8-5)

Top Victory: Wichita St. (87)

Top Players: Miles Bridges (16.6ppg 8.8rpg 1.5bpg), Eron Harris (13.4ppg 3.8rpg), Nick Ward (13.2ppg 6.4rpg 1.9bpg)

The Spartans had a brutal non-conference slate that include four games, all losses, against RPI top-25 opponents. Freshman Miles Bridges was leading Michigan State thru its first nine contests with 16.6ppg and 8.8rpg before suffering an ankle injury. Can the young Spartans rebound from a shaky start?

Maryland (12-1)

Top Victory: Oklahoma St. (41)

Top Players: Melo Trimble (17.9ppg 3.1rpg 2.9apg 1.2spg) Justin Jackson (10.8ppg 6.0rpg)

When you think Maryland, you think Melo Trimble, and the guard is back for his senior season and is averaging 17.9ppg. Maryland had the 54th ranked non-conference schedule with their only defeat coming to Pittsburgh, 59-73. With Trimble in the lineup, Maryland always has a chance to win.

The Bubble Teams:

Minnesota (12-1)

Top Victory: Arkansas (16)

Top Players: Nate Mason (13.2ppg 3.2rpg 5.5apg 1.2spg), Amir Coffey (11.9ppg 3.6rpg 2.8apg)

Minnesota may be the biggest question mark in all of the Big Ten. The Gophers are currently ranked 8th in the RPI after playing the 32nd-ranked non-conference schedule. Nate Mason is making himself a household name throughout the Big Ten and Amir Coffey has been one of the most impressive freshman in the country. The Gophers lost their only road game during non-conference play, a 67-75 loss at Florida State.

Northwestern (11-2)

Top Victory: Wake Forest (19)

Top Players: Scottie Lindsey (14.9ppg 4.3rpg 3.2apg) Vic Law (13.7ppg 5.2rpg) Bryant McIntosh (12.2ppg 2.4rpg 5.5apg)

Northwestern has never made the NCAA Tournament, but with the leadership of junior Bryan McIntosh, the Wildcats are poised to make a run. Wins against Wake Forest (19th in RPI) and Dayton (53) are good starts to the resume.

Illinois (10-3)

Top Victory: VCU (35)

Top Players: Malcolm Hill (18.4ppg 6.3rpg 2.2apg), Leron Black (11.7ppg 6.7rpg)

Senior Malcom Hill is an explosive scorer, he already dropped 40 against Northern Kentucky this season. But what happens to the Fighting Illini when Hill is shut down? They couldn’t overcome it in non-conference losses to West Virginia, Florida State, and Winthrop.

Iowa (8-5)

Top Victory: Northern Iowa (103)

Top Players: Peter Jok (22.6ppg 6.2rpg 2.2apg 1.2spg), Tyler Cook (13.7ppg 5.3rpg)

Senior Peter Jok leads the conference with 22.6 points per game and he will make any game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena a headache for his opponents. This was already proven in a 78-64 victory over Iowa State. The Hawkeyes began their season with five losses in their first eight games, but are currently riding a 5-game win streak.

The Cinderella’s:

Rutgers (11-2)

Top Victory: Drexel (147)

Top Players: Nigel Johnson (12.7ppg 4.3rpg 3.1apg), Deshawn Freeman (12.2ppg 9.5rpg)

Rutgers is off to impressive start after only winning seven games in 2015-16. But their top non-conference win came against RPI ranked 147 Drexel. The improvement is evident, but we still only expect a handful of wins for the Knights.

Penn State (8-5)

Top Victory: George Washington (120)

Top Players: Shep Garner (14.6ppg 2.8rpg 3.1apg 1.5spg), Mike Watkins (10.5ppg 8.4rpg 3.3bpg)

Penn State has received solid play from junior Shep Garner and freshman Mike Watkins in the early going. The Nittany Lions hung tough with top-ranked Duke in an early season tilt that was decided by 10 points. Can PSU upset one of the contenders in the Bryce Jordan Center?

Nebraska (6-6)

Top Victory: Dayton (53)

Top Players: Tai Webster (17.0ppg 5.1rpg 4.0apg 1.1spg), Glynn Watson Jr. (12.6ppg 3.0rpg 2.8apg 1.9spg), Ed Morrow (10.3ppg 8.4rpg)

The Cornhuskers stumbled their way through a non-conference slate that included three games against ranked opponents. Nebraska is led by senior guard Tai Webster who averaged 17.0 points per game including a pair of 23-point nights against Louisiana Tech and Virginia Tech.

Which players and teams will surprise in the upcoming Big Ten hoops season? And which team will prevail as the Big Ten regular season champion? Share your opinions in the comments below or on twitter @InsideWisconsin.