WHO: Maryland Terrapins (23-2, 14-0) @ Wisconsin Badgers (8-18, 4-10)
WHAT: Women's basketball B1G Conference game
WHERE: Kohl Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI
WHEN: Thursday, February 19, 2015 9:00 p.m. ET
WATCH: In Person
Badgers? We ain't got no badgers.*
Given that one nickname for Wisconsin is the Badger State, it might make sense that the nickname of the athletic teams for the flagship state university would be the Badgers. It might, except for one small fact. The nickname has nothing to do with the animal. According to several University sources, it actually came from an association with lead miners in the 1820s. Without shelter in the winter, the miners had to "live like badgers" in tunnels burrowed into hillsides.
Although the school apparently considered tigers or cardinals as a potential nickname and one of those plays an important role in Wisconsin athletics, both were quickly discarded in favor of Badgers. According to the University's athletics website, "The badger started as the official UW mascot with the inception of intercollegiate football in 1889."
In those early days, the football team kept a live badger on the sidelines as their mascot. However, "The original badger mascot was too vicious to control. On more than one occasion, the live badger escaped handlers before a sideline hero recaptured the animal with a flying tackle. It was decided in the interest of fan and player safety that Wisconsin's mascot be retired to the Madison Zoo. The Badger Yearbook replaced the live badger with a small raccoon named Regdab (badger backwards) and passed it off as a "badger in a raccoon coat."" (Now the only threat to the handlers would be rabies!)
The Badgers needed nearly half a century before they replaced Redgab. Today's badger, dressed in a cardinal and white sweater, "was first drawn in 1940 by professional illustrator Art Evans of Garden Grove, Calif. In 1949, a student first wore a badger outfit with a papier-máchê head at the homecoming game and the mascot came to life."
The official name of the mascot, known to most as Bucky, is Buckingham U. Badger. The name was the result of a contest and outdistanced some of the previous monikers such as Benny, Buddy, Bernie, Bobby, and my personal favorite, Bouncey.
Now, if you paid attention, you noticed that we described Bucky as wearing a cardinal and white sweater and you remembered that Wisconsin once considered adopting Cardinals as their mascot. Cardinal (as the main color) and white (as an accent) are Wisconsin's official colors. An article on the Campus and Visitor Relations website reports, "Cardinal and white were "generally accepted in the 1880s as the school colors," says Arthur Hove, a historian of UW-Madison. The cardinal - or red - may have been around even longer since the Badgers briefly considered a tiger or a cardinal for team names. Although the badger became the team mascot, the color cardinal remained."
Badgers on the court - 2014-15
Wisconsin is the second of four consecutive Maryland opponents with an RPI greater than 100. Their lack of success will come as no surprise to followers of Big Ten women's basketball, however. The Badgers have yet to have a winning season under fourth year coach Bobbie Kelsey and have had only five seasons with a winning record since 2002-03. Their last NCAA tournament appearance came in 2010 and resulted in a first-round loss to Vermont. In fact, Wisconsin has advanced to the second round only twice in program history.
The Badgers struggled through the non-conference portion of their schedule, stumbling to a 4-6 record without registering a quality win. They are 0-13 in games against RPI top 50 teams, but have won three of their four games against teams between 51 and 100.
Historically, Wisconsin has been a team that is, shall we say, offensively challenged and the current season is no exception. After averaging fewer than 60 points per game (PPG) for three seasons beginning in 2010, the Badgers have become a comparative offensive juggernaut over the past two seasons. Last season they averaged 65.5 PPG (63.9 in conference play) and this season they are scoring 63.5 PPG and 65.9 in conference games. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, the Big Ten is an up tempo league and for the current season, those totals place them 14th and ninth respectively.
Prior to the start of conference play, Wisconsin played at the slowest pace of any B1G team. This didn't particularly help their offensive efficiency. On the other hand, speeding up their pace of play in league games hasn't hurt that efficiency number. In both conference and non-conference games, the Badgers score at 0.90 points per possession (PPP).
Wisconsin's offense is also stymied by a high turnover rate. They turn the ball over nearly 17 times per game meaning that just less than one in four (23.8 percent) of their possessions end in a turnover. Nor are the Badgers particularly effective in reaching the free throw line. Their free throw production (the percentage of possessions that generate a free throw) is .165 (.167 in conference play). For comparison, Maryland's free throw production is .239 which is the best in the Big Ten.
Complementing their relatively inefficient and low scoring offense, Wisconsin has a somewhat inefficient and porous defense. In all games, only four teams yield more than the Badgers' 67.8 PPG and in conference play, they drop a spot to 11th giving up 71.4 PPG. The natural (and accurate) conclusion would be that their defensive efficiency numbers of 0.94 PPP (all games) and 0.96 PPP (conference games) are also in the league's bottom third.
Players to watch
Nicole Bauman #4, junior, guard, 5'10". Bauman is the unquestioned star of this Wisconsin team. She leads the Badgers in points (14.6), assists (3.9), minutes played (33.5), effective field goal percentage (60.5) and offensive efficiency (13.5). At 47.7 percent, Bauman leads the B1G in three point field shooting and she has been remarkable in conference play connecting on 48 of 93 or 51.6 percent.
Cassie Rochel #43, senior, center, 6'4". Rochel won't score a lot. She averages 6.6 PPG for the season and 7.0 in conference play but she does play defense and rebound. She's Wisconsin's best rebounder at nearly eight per game and her size makes her an effective defender on the inside where she's fourth in the conference blocking about 2.5 shots per game.
Thursday will be the first meeting between the Maryland and Wisconsin women's basketball programs but we don't need to stop there. Terrapins head coach Brenda Frese spent a year as the head coach at Minnesota where she faced the Badgers three times and her record is an interesting one. The Golden Gophers won two of the three games beginning with Minnesota's 92-85 upset of the then fifth ranked Badgers in Madison. Wisconsin was ranked 25th when they visited the Barn late in the season and lost 76-74. The teams met for a third time in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and a now unranked Badgers squad upended the Golden Gophers 74-64.
Wisconsin is one of the few teams in the conference that can match Maryland's size and approximate the Terps' depth. Along with the 6'4" Rochel and the 5'10" Bauman, coach Kelsey sends out 6'2" Jacki Gulczynski, 6'0" Tessa Cichy, and 5'8" Dakota Whyte. The three principal players off her bench in her usual eight player rotation are 6'4" Malayna Johnson, and a pair of six footers in Cayla McMorris, and AnnMarie Brown. In spite of their size, the Badgers barely hold their own on the glass. For the season, they are -0.4 in rebounding margin and have a 0.1 advantage in conference games.
Since the start of conference play, the Badgers have become very balanced in their scoring. Bauman has upped her average to 15.9 PPG but Whyte, Cichy, and Gulczynski all average in double figures as well. Wisconsin's starters account for nearly 85 percent of their total scoring.
This is another game Maryland should win and should win easily. More importantly, a win assures the Terps of at least a share of the Big Ten Championship and the top seed in the B1G Tournament. The wild card will be Bauman if only because the three point shot can be the great equalizer and, at nearly 52 percent, the junior can equalize things in a hurry.
As for my friend the GAMER prediction system, it gives Maryland an 82.1 percent chance of winning the game and predicts the Terps to have a margin greater than 20 points by game's end.
*And, for those who missed the TC special pun reference, I refer you to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: