The Thursday slate at Madison Square Garden will feature plenty of intriguing matchups, and the first game of the day could possibly be the day’s best. Quarterfinals action will begin on Thursday at noon with the #8 Maryland Terrapins taking on the #9 Wisconsin Badgers — which can be seen on BTN.
These two teams only met once during the regular season with the Terrapins picking up the home victory, 68-63, over the Badgers on Feb. 4. The win at the time was nice for Maryland’s NCAA Tournament resume — or at least kept them moving in the right direction — however the Terps have gone 3-3 since then and find themselves currently off the bubble.
Wisconsin has had an even worse year, with the Badgers needing to win the Big Ten Tournament championship to have any chance of making the big dance. If the Badgers aren’t able to achieve that, then it’ll be the first time since 1998 that Wisconsin isn’t competing in the NCAA Tournament.
We are used to hearing these two teams facing off later in the Big Ten Tournament but just because they’ve had down years doesn’t mean this won’t be a fun game to watch. There are still some intriguing elements to this game so let’s dive into three keys to this matchup.
1. Who will be more motivated to play?
Both the Badgers and Terrapins will enter the Big Ten Tournament coming off a loss in their season finales, and ultimately aren’t playing for much as far as the postseason goes. Both teams will probably need to win this tournament in order to make the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland was blown out by Michigan last Saturday, losing by 24 points at home in a game the Terps simply needed to win to help bolster their NCAA Tournament resume. Meanwhile, Wisconsin played No. 2 Michigan State tight until the final whistle, with the Spartans edging out a five-point victory in Madison on Sunday. However, keep in mind that it took a career-high scoring performance by freshman guard Brad Davison to keep the Badgers in the game throughout.
Based on these two particular results, I’d say the Badgers have more momentum heading into this matchup. The Terps’ bubble burst in that terrible performance against Michigan, and they could very well phone it in today against the Badgers. Wisconsin is also out of the NCAA Tournament picture so it’ll be interesting to see who comes out with more intensity and will to win in this game. We’ll probably have a good idea of who will come out on top in the opening minutes of the game.
2. Who will get more out of their star guard?
Davison was fantastic against the Spartans last week, and will have to be equally impressive if Wisconsin is going to make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament. The same can be said for Maryland’s Anthony Cowan, who has been a scoring machine this year for the Terps. So whoever wins this position battle could very well win this game.
Davison — who was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team earlier this week — has been the Badgers’ best scoring threat outside of Ethan Happ this season. He’s averaging 12.1 points per game, and has been even better as of late with double-digit point totals in seven of his last eight games. For Cowan, consistency is the theme with double-digit point totals in all but two games this year. He’s averaging 15.7 points per game, and has dropped 20 or more points five times during conference play, including a 23-point performance against Wisconsin on Feb. 4.
Cowan got the better of Davison in the first matchup between Maryland-Wisconsin but don’t be surprised if we see a different outcome this afternoon. Both players are proven scorers and Davison has really raised his game over the past month. This should be a fun matchup to watch.
3. Can Wisconsin put up enough points to win?
There’s been one really noticeable indicator for whether or not Wisconsin wins this year — scoring 70 or more points. I know there’s a lot more to basketball then simply scoring but this year there’s been a direct line to the Badgers winning when they are able to put the ball in the basket with more success.
Wisconsin is 12-3 this year when they score 70 or more points. That means of the Badgers’ 14 wins, all but two occurred when the offense actually experienced some success. So if the offensively challenged Badgers are able to get some mojo going on the offensive end of the floor then they’ll have a chance at winning this game.
The good news for Wisconsin is the Terps aren’t a great defensive team. Maryland ranked 11th in the Big Ten in points against with opponents averaging 72.9 points per game in league play. So this could end up being a decent matchup for Wisconsin, but let’s not forget the Terps held Bucky to only 63 points in the earlier meeting.