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Maryland vs. Wisconsin preview: Terps aiming for season sweep of surging Badgers

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Wisconsin looks more formidable than it did a few weeks ago, but the Terps are a clear favorite.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers have came a long way from the disarray that surrounded them when longtime head coach Bo Ryan suddenly retired in December, leaving behind a 7-5 team. Interim coach Greg Gard has done quality work to resurrect the Badgers, who - save for a few tough losses - have rebounded nicely and now ride a six-game win streak.

The Badgers have lost just one game since Melo Trimble stuck a dagger in them on Jan. 9. In their current run of play, they've beaten quality Michigan State and Indiana teams, and they've begun to more closely resemble some of Ryan's best teams. Gard is drawing rave reviews, and Wisconsin is squarely back on the NCAA Tournament's bubble.

But Maryland has won 27 home games in a row. The Badgers visit the Terps on Saturday evening (6:30 p.m. EST, ESPN), and they aren't likely to be the team that ends that streak. Let's get to know them:

Wisconsin Badgers (15-9, 7-4 Big Ten)

The coach

Gard is 8-4 since replacing Ryan. Previously a top Ryan lieutenant, Gard is in his 15th season in Madison.

Players to know

Nigel Hayes, junior, forward, 6'8, No. 10. Hayes is one of the best players in the Big Ten, although he hasn't been as good as the Badgers' top scoring option as he was as a complimentary option last season. His 3-point shooting is down from almost 40 percent to 30 percent, and he's not as efficient as he used to be. But still, 17 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists per game are nothing to sneeze it.

Bronson Koenig, junior, guard, 6'4, No. 24. Koenig emerged last season when starter Traevon Jackson missed much of the year with an injury, and he's had another quality year. Like Hayes, he's not a dominant scorer on his own, but he's averaging 13 points playing more off the ball than he did last year, when Koenig usually played point guard next to since-graduated shooting guard Josh Gasser.

Ethan Happ, redshirt freshman, forward, 6'9, No. 22. Happ is the Badgers' best rebounder and one of the best defensive glass-eaters in the country, grabbing about a quarter of all his opponents' missed shots. He averages 12 points, 8 boards and an assist per game and has been this team's breakout player.

Vitto Brown, junior, forward, 6'8, No. 30. Brown averages 9 points and 5 rebounds. He's a 77 percent foul shooter but isn't efficient on either twos or threes, where he clicks at just 33 percent.

Zak Showalter, redshirt junior, guard, 6'2, No. 3. Showalter has had to take a bigger role this season, and he's done well with it. His 115 offensive rating is the highest of any rotation player, and he shoots 81 percent at the foul line and 37 percent on 3-pointers.

Strengths

Offensive rebounding.

Interior defense.

There are caveats here. Wisconsin isn't great at either of these things, but the Badgers hold up better than most of the country in both. Their 35.3 percent offensive rebounding rate is No. 34, and their 44.7 percent 2-point-shooting allowed is 51st.

Weaknesses

Perimeter defense. Teams knock down 38.4 percent of their 3-pointers against the Badgers, leaving them 324th out of 351 teams in long-range defending. If Maryland's Jared NIckens is ever going to thaw out of his prolonged shooting slump, this is a nice opportunity.

They don't have the guy. Hayes and Koenig are both outstanding players, but they haven't been able to lug Wisconsin around in quite the same way Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker did a season ago. There's nobody here who's a terrifying one-on-one offensive presence ordinarily capable of turning a game on his own, and that's a good limitation for a superiorly talented Maryland team to go up against. There's no one here who requires his own gameplan.

Predictions

KenPom: Maryland, 69-60. Terps have an 85 percent chance to win.

Alex: Maryland, 75-58.