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!

Game 8 Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin vs. Syracuse

Caleb King (@calebking_2): Tuesday night will mark the first time that Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange will visit Madison to face Greg Gard’s Wisconsin Badgers.

This matchup will be part of the Big 10/ACC Challenge. The last time these two sides faced off was last season in New York at the Carrier Dome, also as part of the Big 10-ACC Challenge, where the Badgers knocked off the Orange by score of 66-58 in overtime. This will be the first time that Gard and Boeheim match up, however, because Bo Ryan was still the Head Coach for this game last season.

Syracuse comes in with a 4-1 record, their only blemish coming in their last contest where they saw defeat at the hands of South Carolina by score of 50-64. The Orange have not faced a ranked opponent, their closest win came against Monmouth, a 21-point route at the Carrier Dome. There’s no doubt that this top-25 showdown with Wisconsin will be the Orange’s first big test.

Wisconsin comes in after finishing 2-1 as the Runner-Ups in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational Tournament, and since then knocking off Prairie View A&M University on Sunday by score of 95-50 in Madison. At Maui the Badgers defeated Tennessee and Georgetown before falling to UNC in the title game.

The Badgers are definitely a more battle tested team coming into Tuesday’s clash, having already matched up with Creighton, now ranked 10th in the nation, and North Carolina, now ranked 3rd in the nation. Granted, the Badgers fell in both of those contests, giving them their two losses on the season to put them at 5-2 coming in. Wisconsin has felt the high intensity and pressure big games bring, which I believe will give them an edge in their matchup with Syracuse.

Syracuse brings in 4 players averaging double figures, the top scorer being Andrew White III, a transfer from Nebraska, who averages 17.3ppg for the Orange. There’s no doubt that White is the key player to watch for Syracuse. He’s a lanky 6-7 guard that spent his first two seasons at Kansas, then a year off, then a year at Nebraska and now will finish his college campaign with the Orange. He knows how the B1G plays and has had success against the Badgers in the past, in specific last season in the B1G tournament opening game. He’s a dynamic forward who just knows how to get buckets, it’s going to be a tough matchup for whoever (I’d assume Hayes) will take on that task. Look for Zak Showalter to have a matchup on Frank Howard. A lot of the Orange’s offense goes through this man, averaging 9.2ppg and 6.4apg. Showalter will make it hard for Howard to facilitate the offense as he’s accustomed to doing.

Obviously the Badgers will see a classic Orange 2-3 zone on Tuesday night, look for the Badgers to really settle into ball movement and penetrating the lane and kicking it out to shooters. It will be key for the Badgers to be active on the offensive glass as they were against Georgetown, Syracuse isn’t a great rebounding team and it will be essential for the Badgers to capitalize down low when given the chance. The Badgers perimeter defense will also need to be strong, Syracuse is known to love the outside chance which is a big reason why they aren’t a great rebounding team. It will be dangerous for the Badgers to allow them to get going early from beyond the arc.

My Player-To-Watch for tomorrow night is Vitto Brown. In a game like this, Vitto plays a big role in stretching that 2-3 zone and getting in those perimeter pockets to shoot. If Vitto can get going early it will be difficult for the Orange to maintain their effectiveness in the zone. There’s no doubt they will want to key on Koenig and not allow him to get open looks, but if Vitto can prove early on to be a threat, I believe this game will open up pretty fast.

King’s Prediction: BADGERS 64 Syracuse 54

#OnWisconsin

Ben Thorson (@benjthorson): Caleb did a great job previewing this game, so I will make my comments short and simple. Here’s a list of strengths and weaknesses for the Badgers as they match up against Syracuse.

Strengths:

  • Rebounding advantage: The Badgers outrebounded the Orange 51 to 25 in last year’s meeting. Wisconsin currently ranks fifth in the country with a +14.6 rebound margin.
  • Effective forwards: UW found success last year penetrating zone and capitalizing on second chance opportunities. Nigel Hayes finished last year’s contest against the Orange with 15 points and 12 rebounds. While Ethan Happ collected 18 points and 15 rebounds. Look for dominant play from Hayes and Happ once again tonight.
  • Pritzl Factor: The Badgers could look to use Brevin Pritzl against the Syracuse zone. Pritzl got live reps with the game day lineup in Monday’s practice, as he could look to boost the Badgers dismal 3-point shooting percentage (31.6%)

Weaknesses:

  • Jump Shooting Team: We have already witnessed the result of games in which the Badgers are too dependent on jump shots. Wisconsin may think they have open looks against the zone, but should place emphasis on trying to penetrate and score easy buckets. The saving grace in this, is that the Badgers won last year in the Carrier Dome on 5-for-18 shooting from deep.
  • Turnovers: The Badgers still haven’t done a good job of protecting the basketball. Wisconsin is currently averaging 13.3 turnovers per game, which ranks 136th in the country. Last season the Badgers turned the ball over 20 times against the Syracuse zone.

Limiting turnovers, dominating the boards, and strong play from Happ and Hayes will lead the Badgers to victory at the Kohl Center on Tuesday night.

Thorson’s Prediction: BADGERS 61 Syracuse 55