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Maryland men’s basketball vs. No. 23 Wisconsin preview

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The Terps will look to upset the Badgers at home for their first conference win of the season.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

After a two-game road trip, Maryland men’s basketball is back in College Park, Maryland and will look to shake things up with an upset of No. 23 Wisconsin.

The Terps are 0-3 in conference play for the first time since joining the Big Ten and will look to avoid an 0-4 start and slipping to 8-7.

The game is set for Sunday at 7:30 p.m. and will air on the Big Ten Network.

No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers (12-2, 3-1 Big Ten)

2020-21 record: 18-3, 10-10 Big Ten

Head coach Greg Gard is in his seventh year at the helm of the Badgers’ program. The head coach who was an associate head coach with the program from 2001-15, earned Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2020 after Wisconsin won the regular season championship along with the Terps and Michigan State. In his first six seasons, the Badgers have gone to the NCAA Tournament and the one year they did not was in 2020 when the tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This season, Wisconsin is off to a successful start after earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament last year as the No. 9 seed. The Badgers, who were not in the AP Top 25 Poll in the preseason now sit at the No. 23 spot and have picked up some significant wins along the way. Wisconsin started off with three consecutive nonconference wins before falling in a tight matchup to Providence. In their next 11 matchups, the Badgers dropped just one game to then-No. 21 Ohio State on the road in early December. Some notable wins include victories over then-No. 12 Houston and then-No. 3 Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana. Most recently, Wisconsin defeated Iowa, a team the Terps kept it close with earlier in the week.

Players to know

Johnny Davis, sophomore guard, 6-foot-5, No. 1 — It’s impossible to talk about this team without mentioning Davis. He is one of the top three scorers in the nation averaging 22.8 points per game and he had a massive career-high 37-point performance against the top-five Boilermakers. His 7.1 rebounds per game lead Wisconsin and he also has 29 assists and 16 steals which lead and co-lead the team, respectively. Davis is currently shooting from the field at a 48.4% clip and is 38.8% from behind the arc. In recent games, Davis was nearly on a three-game double-double streak. He put 20 points and five boards against Illinois State, 37 points and 14 rebounds against Purdue and then against Iowa he was one rebound shy with 26 points and nine boards. Davis is a player the Terps will have to look out for in all aspects of the game as they have been having trouble stopping their opponents’ star player and the sophomore was on the 2021-22 Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list.

Brad Davison, senior guard, 6-foot-4, No. 34 — Davison has been with the program since 2017 and with that comes consistency and leadership. The senior guard is currently averaging the second-most points on the team with 15.4 and is averaging 4.2 rebounds per game. Davison’s points per game rank in the top 20 of the Big Ten and he has the second-best free throw percentage in the conference. At the beginning of December, he earned Big Ten Co-Player of the Week after scoring 27 points and 20 points against Georgia Tech and Marquette, respectively, in the same week. He is coming off an 18-point performance against Iowa and has scored 10-plus points in four consecutive games.

“Davis is a terrific scorer and Davison you know, he doesn’t get the recognition across the country,” Manning said. “But you know, he’s one of the better two guards in the country as well.”

Tyler Wahl, junior forward, 6-foot-9, No. 5 — Wahl was another consistent player for the Badgers during the 2020-21 season, he played in every game for Wisconsin and has continued to make an impact. Wahl is averaging 8.8 points per game and 5.3 rebounds and is coming off one of his strongest showings of the season. Against Iowa Wahl scored 16 points while shooting 6-for-7 from the field and 4-for-8 from the charity stripe. Wahl was one rebound shy of a double-double against the Hawkeyes with nine rebounds.

Strength

Johnny Davis. Not only has the sophomore guard displayed a burst of talent this season after averaging seven points per game last year but he is coming into College Park on a hot streak. Davis has scored 20-plus points in six consecutive games and the Terps have a history this season of allowing certain opponents to put up that many points in a game. Davis’ shift into high gear has taken a team that finished tied for sixth in the conference last season to one of the top contenders in the Big Ten right now.

“We’ll try to throw different guys on him. We’ll put some guys his size on. We’ll put some smaller guys on him,” Manning said. “We might put a taller guy on and it just depends on the matchup and who we have out there on the court at that particular time when he’s out there.”

Weakness

Shooting from deep. Maryland’s three-point shooting woes have been a theme of the season and it ranks 12th in the conference. The two teams shooting worse from behind the arc are Wisconsin and Nebraska. In 14 games, the Badgers have shot just 29.5% from deep. Wisconsin has made more shots from behind the arc than Maryland with 93 however, that still ranks in the bottom half of the conference. Although this isn’t the Badgers’ strong suit, they are able to generate elsewhere to have a 7.4 scoring margin.

Three things to watch

1. Will this be the game Maryland slows down one of the nation’s top scorers? The Terps have had the incredibly difficult challenge of going up against the best two scorers in the country consecutively in Keegan Murray and Kofi Cockburn. Now, the uphill battle will continue as the Terps welcome Davis, the nation’s third scorer behind Murray and Cockburn into the Xfinity Center.

“Murray played outstanding against us, Kofi was really good. You know, we’ve got to try to slow down Davis who’s an elite scorer, it’s gonna be a great challenge. We got to make sure that he shoots a bad percentage,” Manning said.

“You know, that’s the thing about a guy that score the basketball. They’re going to get their opportunity to score. You just got to be kind of disruptive enough where they don’t hit their rhythm full stride, and they’re a little bit uncomfortable and their numbers aren’t above average. And you just want to try to keep them average to below average, if you can in a perfect world.”

2. Will the Terps be able to keep Wisconsin off the free throw line? Something Manning has emphasized since taking on this role is that he wanted to create opportunities in the paint and draw fouls to get into the bonus early on. But looking at the opponent, Wisconsin is currently shooting 76% from the free throw line, second in the conference behind Iowa who is shooting at a 77% clip. The Badgers have hit 212 out of 279 attempted free throws across 14 games. It’s something to look out for when Maryland takes on Wisconsin since both center Qudus Wahab and forward Julian Reese fouled out of the game against Illinois.

3. Can Hakim Hart and the rest of the starters keep their momentum going? Despite dropping the last two games, Maryland’s starters seem to have gotten into a groove. Hart has had a huge jump in recent weeks scoring 10 or more points in every game since Dec. 1. It was expected that Hart was going to be a difference-maker on defense, which he has been leading the Terps with 25 steals but he has become a steady presence for the offense as well. Also as of late, Ayala has had five consecutive 15-plus-point performances, Russell has scored 10-plus points in three straight and Scott had 10 or more points in five consecutive games. Wahab has had some difficulty getting into a rhythm but has the chance against Wisconsin to find his footing. Although it’s a tall task, Maryland has the opportunity to upset the Badgers at home and one way to make that scenario a reality is for the starters to perform the way they have been as of late.

“Today’s practice was good,” Manning said on Saturday ahead of the game. “We had a lot of spirit. The guys got up and down a little bit, did some gameplan and did some fine-tuning of some things that we were looking forward to use in the game.”