Some Big Ten fans may argue this is the game we've all been waiting for. Sure, this conference season has boasted many fantastic matchups between very solid programs. However, for the first time this season we see the two highest AP ranked B1G teams take the floor under the same roof. At #14 in the nation, Maryland is hungry for an upset on their home court. However, Bo Ryan and #5 Wisconsin have other plans. What to expect in the potential top showdown of the conference season.
Game of the Night
#5 Wisconsin Badgers @ #14 Maryland Terrapins - 7:00 ET (ESPN)
If one thing's for sure, both of these teams can play at an extremely high level. Wisconsin (25-2, 13-1) continues to make its case for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament behind the stellar play of Naismith award front-runner Frank Kaminsky. The Badgers enter on a ten-game winning streak and show no signs of slowing down. On the other hand, Maryland (22-5, 10-4) has won their last three and is slowly climbing the ranks of bracketology. Freshman phenom Melo Trimble is already garnering hype for first-team all-Big Ten and leads the Terrapins in points (16.1) and assists (3.1) per game.
So what do we make of this matchup? First things first, let's take a look at the front courts. With a guy like Kaminsky, the Badgers get the edge against just about anybody in the nation. A double-double machine, Big Frank is about as reliable as they come, averaging 17.1 points and 8.3 rebounds on the season. Given Maryland relies on athleticism rather than size, its a clear mismatch to have 6'9'' Damonte Dodd guarding the post against a 7-footer. Bo Ryan will likely try to exploit this matchup, giving Kaminsky the means to do his work down low.
A more competitive matchup will be Wisconsin's Sam Dekker on Maryland's Dez Wells. Dekker, a preseason All-American candidate is a tough man to guard, but Wells is a force in his own right. The 6'5'' 200lb Wells is averaging 14.6 PPG and 4.6 rebounds to 6'7'' Dekker's 13.1 and 5.1. This should be a key matchup on both sides of the ball to see who can gain the upper hand at the 4 position.
As far as guard play, Maryland has the slight edge. Melo Trimble is hot, averaging 21 points over his last four contests. Its hard to fathom Mark Turgeon not going to Trimble early and in the crunch when Maryland needs some offense to get going. His sheer athleticism is enough to trouble a Wisconsin team based off of smart play and tough team basketball. Josh Gasser will likely be tasked with trying to stop Trimble from doing too much damage.
What this one is going to come down to is the final run. Both teams are capable of getting out to leads at any given point in this game, but who finishes on that hot streak will determine who walks out victorious. The star power is inevitable but key guys like Jake Layman for Maryland and Bronson Koenig for Wisconsin could be the deciding factor based on one shot or another. Once thought to be on the hot seat, Turgeon will need to coach his best game of the year against mastermind Bo Ryan. Every substitution and every possession is key in a game like this. While Maryland has only one top 25 win on the year, they have the potential to do something very special tonight. Wisconsin doesn't lose very often, and that could make this one super sweet if the Terps can walk away victorious.