On Sunday, the Terps (15-9) have a matinee matchup against the Wisconsin Badgers (10-14) at 1 p.m. Wisconsin, led by junior forward Ethan Happ, was expected to be a player in the Big Ten and with high hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid, but that has not been the case this season. Terps Watch spoke to the president of Sconnie Sports Talk, editor in chief and Wisconsin men's basketball beat writer Nick Osen to learn all things Badgers men's basketball. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Wisconsin has dealt with several injuries, what are they and how have they impacted the season?
Although I do not think the Badgers would have been great this year, I do think injuries have been a bigger killer than youth. Every team deals with some in the Big Ten, but this has been just awful for UW. Starting point guard D'Mitrik Trice broke his right foot and has been out for nearly two months, and talented freshman wing Kobe King suffered a left knee injury in practice and is out for season. Trice was not only the team's main ball handler, but also the presumptive vocal leader of the team, so that's a huge shot to the team. King might have the highest upside on the team, and can score with the best of them, so that is another big reason UW can't shoot well at all.
What is the state of the Wisconsin basketball program?
Although it may appear as declining to the naked eye and to many blind fans, no, this program is not declining. They are two and a half years removed from a Final Four berth, and a year removed from beating the No. 1 overall seed Villanova in the NCAA Tournament. I would probably tend to say the state of the program is rebuilding. The team lost four out of their five starters last year, all seniors, and returned just three real rotation guys. Last year's recruiting class I am very high on, and I'm even higher on this year's freshman crop (Brad Davison, Kobe King, Nathan Reuvers.) These guys are very talented, but just did not expect to play this much already, and most of them shouldn't have. Next year's class had 4-star recruit Tyler Herro but he flipped his commitment and is now playing for Coach Cal at UK next year. However, Herro wants to chase his NBA dream, and I don't blame him.
How has Ethan Happ's game changed/developed from this year to last year?
I wouldn't say his game has changed that much since his last year, which is probably fine since he was an All-American. In terms of development, I've seen three fairly big changes. He was versatile last year, but legitimately plays point forward for this year's team sometimes. He's big, strong, can handle the ball and pass with the best of them, so he become even more versatile. In addition, he is much better and more comfortable at the free throw line this year (50 percent at the line last year and 54.8 percent this year), and has to be when he gets doubled and tripled so often on offense. Finally, he has added an improved jump shot, and hit his first three last week, which made Badgers fans collectively lose their minds and get delirious over it.
Both Maryland and Wisconsin have struggled to live up to expectations, how are these two teams similar on the court, if they are at all?
Yes, they most certainly have. Both teams are young, a lot of their talent comes from the youngest players. The programs are not as healthy as they would like, so clearly they cannot reach their full potential. Maryland likes to play faster than UW, but also has shot better (from what I have seen), as Wisconsin truly doesn't have a real knock-down shooter, which is so unfortunate. Kevin Huerter is shooting 45.6 percent from three, which is seventh in the Big Ten and Jared Nickens is shooting 42.7 percent, which is good for 12th in the conference. I think Maryland is a pretty good team, while Wisconsin is well under .500 on the year.
Wisconsin wins if…
They can shoot the ball. Brevin Pritzl has one of the prettiest strokes you'll see in college basketball, but it hasn't been consistent, especially as of late. If he, Aleem Ford and Reuvers can hit from deep, and continue to defend, they will have a legitimate chance. And if Badgers can feed Happ and control the pace, they win the game. Like I said, it will take a lot, but I would not be surprised if Wisconsin won a close, defensively minded game.
Maryland will win if…
Quite simply, if all healthy talent plays like they can and up to their potential, Maryland should win. Wisconsin has talent, but a lot of it is either stuck on the bench due to injury, or just not ready for high Big Ten play yet. So, that would help Maryland win. I would say Maryland will win if the crowd shows up, because this year's Badgers have really depended on their home crowd, and struggled on the road. More than anything though, if Maryland can push it, shoot well, and essentially score the basketball often, they will win the game. Wisconsin is actually a pretty decent defensive team, especially with their lack of depth, but struggles a ton to score the ball.