Before this college basketball season, most didn't figure that Tuesday's meeting between Maryland and Wisconsin would be the Big Ten's premier matchup of the year.
Turns out, it is.
The No. 16 Terps have charged through their first set of Big Ten games, and they're in possession of second place in the league behind only the No. 5 Badgers. Both teams are NCAA tournament locks, and Maryland probably won't catch Wisconsin to win the conference's regular season crown even with a victory Tuesday. It's a showdown nonetheless, so Phil Mitten of Bucky's 5th Quarter answered some questions about Bo Ryan's team. Phil's a good follow on Twitter, too, as we get closer to tip.
Testudo Times: Wisconsin has the best offense in college basketball. Bo Ryan has an arsenal of really good players, obviously, but is there something more to this group's scoring success? There are a lot of stacked rosters in college basketball, but nobody's this efficient. Why are the Badgers so terrifying?
Phil Mitten: Bo Ryan has fielded some incredibly efficient offenses over the years, including last year's and the one led by Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer in 2010-11. But you're right, this group has taken things a notch higher. It's really the combination of values Ryan has been drilling into all of his team's over the years and accumulating a bit more talent than usual.
Wisconsin has two surefire NBA players in Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, as well as younger guys like Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes who have who have some next-level abilities. Guys like Dekker and Hayes bring a bit more athleticism also. The team chemistry is fantastic and they've all bought into the system, which emphasizes versatility and good decision-making. Each guy in the lineup is just a really good fit for what Ryan likes to do – hurt you inside and out while not turning the ball over.
Maryland fans saw Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson go down a couple of weeks ago and figured it might help the Terps win this game. But his replacement, Koenig, hasn't exactly missed a beat, to the tune of a 125 ORtg. How has the team changed with Koenig at the point?
Early numbers suggested the increased offensive efficiency came at the expense of defensive efficiency. While there still might be some truth to that due to inexperience, Koenig's defense is passing the eye test these days as his confidence has soared.
The Badgers are even more deadly from the outside thanks to Koenig's smooth stroke, but he's still learning when and how to probe the defense and get to the rim. Jackson was able to pick those spots relatively well. He also handled pressurized end-of-game and Kamisky-less possessions with aplomb. For better or worse, Koenig hasn't piloted the team in many close late-game situations yet.
It's hard to talk Wisconsin without talking Kaminsky. In your mind, is he the national player of the year?
Undoubtedly. No one can touch him from an efficiency standpoint, he's better than Jahlil Okafor defensively and leading a two-loss team that's been in the top five nearly all season. Need more evidence? Without Kaminsky, Wisconsin lost to Rutgers. RUTGERS! The same team that's been outscored 165-101 over the past two games by teams (Iowa, Indiana) that a Kaminsky-led Badger team beat three times by an average score of 82-63.
Kaminsky's going to get his, certainly, but what's the playbook on how to at least contain him?
I suppose the best way would be to get him in early foul trouble to get him off the court. If you have the bodies, I'd muscle him up early so he really has to fight for post position over the duration of the game. At the very least, this might tire him out and make it harder for him to finish at the rim. Kaminsky has gotten so good at pulling triple moves and passing out to teammates, but lengthy defenders have given him trouble at times.
Wisconsin's offense doesn't have a single weak point, and the defense hardly does either. The team's overall three-point defense has been pretty average (35 percent allowed), but that's jumped slightly to 35.8 percent in league play. On the other end of the court, if Maryland's to score enough points to win, is that the way to do it?
Hitting threes is definitely part of the equation. I think the way they'd get them would be by Melo Trimble breaking down the defense and causing havoc in the lane. Whether kick-backs, dump-downs for layups after UW's big men rotate with help or finishing the play himself, I think the Badgers are vulnerable. Finally, with Wisconsin's subs struggling to provide much of a boost lately, if a Terp off the bench makes an impact Maryland could gain an advantage.
What's your prediction for the outcome?
I think the Badgers lose at least one more regular season game and had this one circled as an expected loss for a while. As I alluded to, Trimble is the x-factor in my opinion. If he has a really good game -- and maybe more importantly, significantly outplays Koenig -- I think Maryland can win a toss-up in front of its home crowd.
Just a bad feeling about this one: Maryland 68, Wisconsin 65.