After starting Big Ten play with just one win through the first week of January, Maryland men’s basketball has come out victorious in three of its last four games.
The dominant takedown of No. 21 Minnesota (ranked No. 17 at the time) last Saturday marked the first time in program history that Maryland has defeated three ranked opponents away from home, the first of which was against No. 6 Wisconsin. Now with the Badgers (12-4, 6-3 Big Ten) at No. 14 in the AP Top 25, the Terps will have their first rematch of the season tomorrow night.
The matchup was originally scheduled for Jan. 30, which would have given the Terps a week between the two games. With the change announced this past Sunday, Maryland (9-7, 3-6 Big Ten) is instead set for a 9 p.m. tipoff Wednesday with the opportunity to quickly build off momentum from an upset over Minnesota. Maryland looks to win consecutive conference games for the first time this season.
Maryland has never managed to pull off two victories over Wisconsin in a single season since joining the Big Ten in 2014. The only time the team has technically swept the Badgers was in that first season in the conference, in which it only played them once for a 59-53 victory at home.
There’s no denying how hard it is to knock off a team twice — especially in the Big Ten. Doing so against a ranked squad is an even more daunting task.
The Badgers haven’t fallen to an opponent more than once in a single season since 2017-18, when it lost against Nebraska twice amid a rare off year for the program — they still defeated the Terps in the Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden though.
“Their program’s great and they have great experience, so yeah, we expect them to show us different things defensively and offensively that maybe they didn’t do as much of in the first game,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “And that’s what I like about [Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard], he’s really good about doing that. So we realize that they’re going to be fired up to play us.”
What happened last time
Though the line was close, the Dec. 28 meeting between these two squads was expected to be a blowout victory for the Badgers by many media members. After all, Wisconsin entered with an 8-1 record, undefeated in Big Ten play, while the Terps sat at 5-3.
Maryland was hungry for its first conference win and it showed from the opening tip. The team came out with an aggressive defense that forced Wisconsin into a 1-for-6 start from the field. However, the team couldn’t establish a decent advantage, in large part to offensive struggles of its own. The Terps shot a mere 10-for-27 (37%) from the field and 3-of-10 (30%) beyond the arc in the first half, allowing the Badgers to enter the halftime break with a 28-24 lead.
That changed significantly out of the break though as Maryland got hot with a 64% clip (16-25) on field goal attempts, which included making 42.9% of its deep tries. But Wisconsin improved as well, going from only making 37% of its first half field goal attempts to 50% in the final frame. The contest had six ties and 10 lead changes in totality.
The Terps came out victorious in the back and forth contest after a 10-5 run in the final two minutes, finally earning its first win over a competitive opponent, 70-64.
What’s happened since
Maryland has won three of its last four and seems to be finding its rhythm after a three-game losing streak following the win at Wisconsin.
Yes, this recent stretch includes a nonconference matchup with Division II Wingate to fill in for a postponement of a contest with Nebraska, but regardless, there has been a significant change in the Terps’ performance on the hardwood.
Head coach Mark Turgeon’s squad sent shockwaves as it knocked off No. 19 Illinois (ranked No. 12 at the time), 66-63 on Jan. 10, and No. 21 Minnesota (ranked No. 17 at the time), 63-49 last Saturday — both on the road. The one loss during the span was to Michigan, now ranked No. 4 in the country and looking like a real Final Four contender.
“We improved a lot. We take every day like it’s our last and we just step on the court and give it our all,” forward Donta Scott said. “Practice has been really good, really tough and really competitive. So we’ve just been getting better and we’ve just been looking forward to every game ahead of us.”
After starting the season 8-1, Wisconsin has had a significant dropoff over the last month. Including the last matchup with Maryland, the team is 3-3 over its last six games.
The Badgers have earned wins over the Golden Gophers, Indiana and Rutgers. They defeated both the Golden Gophers and Scarlet Knights by at least 14 points. The contest against Indiana was about as exciting as one could hope, with Wisconsin pulling away with a 80-73 victory in double overtime.
Wisconsin lost its other two games by at least 12 points each, but both were against high caliber squads. The Badgers lost 77-54 on the road against the Wolverines, but the game wasn’t nearly as close as they trailed by 40 points in the second half. They also fell to No. 13 Ohio State (then No. 15) by a 74-62 margin, a game in which the Buckeyes led from the opening tip.
Even with its performances as of late, Wisconsin (12-4, 6-3 in conference) remains a force to be reckoned with, sitting third in the Big Ten behind Michigan and No. 7 Iowa.
Three things to know
1. How much intensity does Maryland play with? One of the constants through each of the Terps’ upsets over ranked opponents has been intense, hounding defense that limited opponents to 64 points or less. The team showed energy and aggressiveness from the very start, which will be crucial in those one. Will the Terps be able to bring that Wednesday, especially with the 9 p.m. start time in mind?
“When we have a lot of effort, we’re really good on the defensive end and we’re always in the game,” guard Aaron Wiggins said. “And if we’re locked in, we know our game plan, we’re guarding the way that we want to and we’re putting forth the effort to battle the bigs and oppose, not allow them to get good looks, then we’ll have a good chance of coming out the way we want.”
2. How does the team perform at the charity stripe? Maryland has struggled significantly at the free-throw line this season, averaging 67% and a mere 63.1% in Big Ten play, which ranks second to last in the league. Despite other successes, the Terps have especially struggled in this area over their last three games, going 58.6% vs Minnesota, 56.7% against Michigan and mediocre 70.6% in the Wingate matchup. In total, they made 58 of their 93 shots at the line during that span, good for 62.4%.
In the first meeting with Wisconsin, Maryland shot 80% (14 of 17) at the charity stripe. This was crucial down the stretch of the close contest as the Terps went 9-for-10 at the line in the final three minutes or so, which played a big role in putting the Badgers away for good — 9 of their 12 last points came that way. A good showing at the free-throw line will be crucial if this is another close game, which is very likely.
3. What direction does Mark Turgeon go with lineups? The Maryland head coach has experimented a lot with his starting lineup and rotations so far this season as the team tries to navigate a very challenging Big Ten slate without a traditional big man down low.
Last time against Wisconsin, Turgeon started Eric Ayala, Wiggins, Darryl Morsell, Scott and Galin Smith. Smith didn’t stay in for most of the game though, finishing with 11 minutes. Ayala, Wiggins and Scott all finished in double figures, combining for 44 of Maryland’s 74 points. Though he didn’t score much, Hakim Hart saw the most minutes off the bench, playing for 24 minutes. The sophomore has improved dramatically this season and has started the last six games with more of a role as the primary ball handler. Will Turgeon stick with this lineup or opt to go bigger to combat Micah Potter and Nate Reuvers?
“It’s a strange year because, you know, Donta can be playing the five, starting five and then at some point in the game, he might be playing the three just because of foul trouble,” Turgeon said. “But it’s just the way it is...I miss [having a strong presence down low]. You know, especially when you’ve had the guys I’ve had, I’ve been pretty spoiled here obviously.”
Vegas: Wisconsin -3 (Over/Under 130.5)
ESPN BPI: Maryland 38.8% chance to win
KenPom: Wisconsin 66, Maryland 64 (Maryland 42% chance to win)
Me: Maryland 70, Wisconsin 69 (overtime)