Who: #14 Maryland Terrapins vs #5 Wisconsin Badgers
What: The game that everyone had circled on their calendar months ago
Where: XFINITY Center and ESPN
When: 7:00 PM

At this point in the season, it’s very difficult for any team to change the perception around them. The teams on the outside of the tournament looking in will most likely remain there, and those whose names are on the mock brackets might see their seed number change, but it would take a true collapse for 90% of them to fall out.

For a team like Maryland, there’s definitely some comfort here. Even if they skidded out and dropped three of their next four games, the Terps would definitely still be on the right side of the bubble. For the first time in a while, Maryland banked some really quality out of conference wins, and because of those wins, there will be Maryland basketball in March. And make no mistake, that is DEFINITELY something to celebrated.

But if you’ve been watching all season like I have (and I’m guessing if you’re reading this you probably have), you have this nagging memory of 2014 that won’t go away. Back during the non-conference schedule, there wasn’t a doubt that Maryland was going to be dancing anyways. In fact, there weren’t many doubts at all. When I said that I thought Maryland was a Sweet 16 caliber team back then, I meant it and I wasn’t alone.

The further along this season has gone, the more its seemed like that team may have been a mirage. Damonte Dodd’s defensive dominance, Jake Layman’s emergence as an All-Big 10 type threat, the stifling three-point defense. The growth in all of those areas has been stunted since the start of the conference schedule.

A number of college basketball sites (ESPN and SI namely) have already been shouting from the hilltops that this Maryland team is stronger on paper than it is on the floor, and the last few games would suggest they might be correct.

Which is why Tuesday night is so important. Of the last four games, it’s the only one left that matters for Maryland. Wins over Michigan, Rutgers, or Nebraska won’t change anyone’s opinions of this team. But a convincing win over a team like Wisconsin would immediately bring back some of the buzz this team had before the calendar turned over.

What To Know About Wisconsin

This season, Maryland’s played against some great players (D’Angelo Russell, Yogi Ferrell) and some great teams (Iowa State), but Wisconsin is on a whole different level than any competition they’ve faced so far. The Badgers are one of a handful of teams that people will be filling in at the end of their March Madness bracket, and with good reason. They’re an exceptionally well coached team, they play solid defense, and although their offense doesn’t necessarily light up the scoreboard, it’s one of the most efficient units in the country.

Any serious contender needs to have a star, and Wisconsin checks that off the list with their center, Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky’s game has similar traits to Wisconsin’s offense as a whole; he may not explode with athleticism, but in college basketball, his fundamentals are peerless, and he can do a little bit of everything. At this point, he prefers to make his hay in the post where he can score around the basket with both hands or face up and shoot the jumper with ease. The fact that he’s a 40.9% three-point shooter on the year is just icing on the cake at this point, as he’s recently taken only 1 or 2 per game. The Badgers are full of good players, but Kaminsky is a great one that’s a matchup headache in every game he plays, this one included.

Sam Dekker is one hell of a talented second banana for Bo Ryan, a 6’9” power forward who also happens to shoot over 50% from the field. Dekker’s quicker than Kaminsky, doesn’t quite have the big man’s shooting touch, but is athletic enough to take most defenders off the dribble. The Terps had a lot of problems with Iowa’s Aaron White, and Dekker presents a nearly identical set of problems.

Sophomore forward Nigel Hayes is the third player on the team averaging double figures in points, and he’s also the third averaging over five rebound per game. Guards Josh Gasser and Bronson Koenig have steady hands running the offense (both averaging under 1.0 TOPG) and at the free throw line (both shooting 85%). The vast majority of teams in the NCAA have a good side and a bad side, If Wisconsin has a bad side, it is awfully tough to see.

How Maryland Can Pull This Off

Simplify the Offense: Maryland’s biggest asset going forward might also be its biggest weakness: three terrific offensive options in Trimble, Wells, and Layman. On paper, the scoring possibilities with these three look like they should be limitless, but the reality is that someone needs to take a step back for this offense to work.

Trimble has been the most consistent offensive threat, so whether it’s Wells or Layman, someone needs to shift their efforts away from scoring for the night. One of the two upperclassmen should dedicate their efforts to crashing the boards and playing hard nosed defense against a Badger team that can score and rebound with any team in the country. Not only will it give Maryland a boost in two sorely needed areas, it will help to free up the offense with one more person dishing the ball around instead of pulling the trigger.

Dodd stays out of foul trouble: Dodd showed in the Indiana game that when he’s on the floor, he’s still capable of making a sizable impact on defense. The key for him (and the team) is making sure he doesn’t pick up two early fouls. Dodd is the only guy big enough to give Kaminsky any sort of problems down low, and he’s also Maryland’s only guy capable of protecting the rim on the roster.

The one problem Dodd has had on the floor is getting back on transition defense, but Wisconsin plays offense at a glacial pace so that shouldn’t be an issue Tuesday night. If he can stay on the floor, it will allow the perimeter defenders to take a few more risks knowing that Dodd can clean up any mistakes they make.

Prediction:

Maryland – 62, Wisconsin – 68

I would love to wrong, but although Maryland has played well at times during their last 5 games, they’ve also played terribly for stretches and gotten away with it due to the level of competition. Wisconsin is too good for Maryland to get sloppy even for a minute or two if they want any chance of winning. The reason I’m picking against the Terps is the same reason I’m desperately hoping they pull this off. There’s no situation in which they won’t look impressive if they win this game, Wisconsin is too good and consistent to lay an egg in this one. Talent wise, they can compete with the Badgers, but to win this game, they’ll need to play 40 consecutive minutes of nearly mistake free basketball. Tuesday night, we’ll see if that sort of game is in them anymore, and hopefully Wednesday we’ll be talking about a possible Top 10 ranking for the first time in weeks.