The Big Ten race tightened up even more this week, and No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 24 Maryland head into their matchup Sunday afternoon in Madison, Wis., as part of a three-way tie for first place in the conference standings. Wisconsin lost its second straight game Thursday against Michigan, allowing the Terrapins and No. 16 Purdue to pull even atop the Big Ten with five regular season games remaining.
The Badgers played their last game without second-leading scorer Bronson Koenig, but the senior point guard practiced Friday and Saturday and appears ready to return from a left calf strain that also played a part in his two-point performance in last weekend’s loss to Northwestern. Maryland experienced its own two-game skid earlier this month, but has bounced back with quality wins against Ohio State and Northwestern to regain a share of first place. Melo Trimble is coming off his best game with the Terrapins, scoring a career-high 32 points Wednesday against Northwestern, shooting 12-for-17 from the floor. The 6-3 junior will likely match up with Koenig, who’s also considered a score-first point guard, and Koenig got the best of their last matchup, as Trimble shot 1-for-14 from the field in a 70-57 loss to the visiting Badgers last February. In a meeting a month earlier, Trimble hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left in a 63-60 victory at Wisconsin.
ABOUT MARYLAND (22-4, 10-3 Big Ten): Trimble’s shooting struggles haven’t been limited to games against Wisconsin. He shot 2-for-14 in a three-point loss to Michigan State last season in a Big Ten Tournament semifinal, 5-for-16 in a loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 and 31 percent in the four games leading up to Wednesday’s win against Northwestern. Trimble averages 17.2 points for the Terrapins and the next highest scorer is 6-7 freshman forward Justin Jackson at 11 a game, leaving a wide gap in between.
ABOUT WISCONSIN (21-5, 10-3): Ethan Happ is the player who should cause difficulties for Maryland on the interior. The 6-10 sophomore forward averages a team-leading 14.5 points and 9.1 rebounds and has been on a bigger tear the last four weeks, averaging 18.4 points and 10.4 rebounds and should be able to use his foot speed to take advantage of Maryland 6-11 forward Damonte Dodd. Happ even leads the team in assists at 2.9 a game and has been better in that category of late too, combining for 11 in the last two games.
1. Since Maryland joined the Big Ten before the 2014-15 season, the Terrapins own the top winning percentage in the conference at .793 while Wisconsin is second at .784.
2. Maryland has won nine games by six points or fewer this season, including three victories by one point, and are 29-8 in games decided by six points or less over the last three seasons.
3. Happ is the only player in the nation leading his team in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks and steals in conference play.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 80, Maryland 75