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2/1 Big Ten Preview: Showdown in Madison

A couple of ranked teams square off Friday night

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The first one was so much fun, let’s do it again.

On January 14, Wisconsin went on the road to Maryland. The Terrapins led almost the entire way, until Wisconsin took a one point lead with two minutes to go. The home crowd pushed Maryland across the finish line first, however, and Mark Turgeon’s squad took home the W, 64-60.

Tonight—the rematch.

Game of the Night

#21 Maryland Terrapins @ #24 Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM EST, FS1
  • KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-6)

Fourth place in the Big Ten is on the line. Maryland and Wisconsin both sit with three conference losses. The loser will drop into a tie with Minnesota. The winner is in the driver’s seat for a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament.

I previewed the first game between these two and billed it as a matchup of the two best bigs in the Big Ten—Ethan Happ and Bruno Fernando. It didn’t end up playing out that way. Maryland was led by their other star player, Anthony Cowan, who dropped 21. Wisconsin, meanwhile, was paced by their other big, Nate Reuvers, who contributed eighteen.

But come on, Fernando vs. Happ is the matchup that we all want to see, particularly on the boards. Maryland as a team is good both ways, clocking in at No. 18 in the nation at both offensive and defensive rebounding. Wisconsin prefers to stick to the defensive glass, and even there, they aren’t nationally elite. That said, on January 14, Happ out rebounded Fernando, 8-4.

Looking strictly at the personnel, I give the edge to Maryland in this game. The computers like Wisconsin, though, and you don’t have to dig too deep to see why. The Badgers have three starters on their roster who are hitting over 40% from three—D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, and Nate Reuvers, all sophomores. Trice is actually over 45% on the season, and he’s hoisting at a healthy rate.

But Wisconsin’s youth movement in long-ball shooting is nothing compared to Maryland’s young guns. The Terms have two freshmen who are over 40%, Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins, with Ayala clocking in over 45%, though admittedly with not as much volume as Trice.

Neither team forces a lot of turnovers, though Maryland is somewhat turnover-prone themselves. But let’s say for the sake of argument the turnovers are low both ways. You’ll have a game with teams who can both shoot and take care of the ball, a rematch of a closely-fought game earlier in the season where the home team eked out a victory, between two teams who are currently tied near the top of the Big Ten standings. What more could you want? It’s going to be cold tonight; don’t go out, stay in and watch this game.

Pick Against The Spread: Maryland turned things around with a good win against Northwestern, but Wisconsin has been playing really well lately. At first I was leaning towards Maryland, but I didn’t realize Reuvers is shooting as well as he is, and he did play really well in the game in College Park. I’ll take the Badgers.

The Rest

#5 Michigan Wolverines @ Iowa Hawkeyes

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, FS1
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan (-4)

Don’t look now, but the undercard has a good chance to be just as good a bout as the main event. KenPom says this is a closer game on paper, and this game has something that Maryland-Wisconsin doesn’t have: a contrast in styles.

Michigan has the nation’s best defense. Iowa has a top ten offense. Michigan wants to play slow. Iowa wants to play fast. Michigan’s offense has been known to turn to absolute crap for 5-6 possessions in a row. You can say the same about Iowa’s defense. Michigan is known for not fouling. Iowa gets fouled more than just about any other team in America.

This isn’t going to be a game of back-and-forth, trade some buckets, hope to string together 3-4 good possessions and get some stops down the stretch. This game is going to be about imposing your will on the other team. Who is going to force their opponent to play a style that’s out of their comfort zone? Can Michigan slow down the scorching Iowa offense? Can Iowa get quick points against a stingy Michigan D? And will either team even want to play at the other end of the floor?

Luka Garza is the most underrated player in the Big Ten right now. Zavier Simpson is coming off a game where he messed around and got a triple-double. Tyler Cook is going to get to go against Iggy. The fans in Carver-Hawkeye Arena are desperate to prove that their program is going to stick in the top half of the Big Ten. How can you not be excited for this game?

Pick Against The Spread: Sorry, Iowa fans. I think Michigan has a slight edge at both ends of the floor, and that’s going to equate to a margin of victory for the Wolverines that’s greater than four. Beilein’s boys take this one.

Season Record Picking Against KenPom’s Spread: 20-24-1