Wisconsin’s first Big Ten loss came with a huge asterisk. The Badgers did not have Frank Kaminsky, a frontrunner for national Player of the Year, because he was experiencing concussion-like symptoms. Kaminsky played on Tuesday at No. 14 Maryland, but the No. 5 Badgers couldn’t avoid dropping their second conference game, falling 59-53 to the Terrapins.
Mind you, the two defeats don’t make for an easy comparison. On Jan. 11, Wisconsin was facing a Rutgers team sitting in last place in the conference and that currently ranks 221st in Ken Pomeroy’s team efficiency ratings. More than a month later, in College Park, Md., the Badgers were upended by a team on track to earn a top four seed in the NCAA tournament.
Neither the Kaminsky-less Rutgers slip-up or the Maryland loss qualify as bad results, yet one or both could be a difference maker for a Wisconsin team on pace for a top-two tourney seed. Before reaching that point, the Badgers, who had played the easiest Big Ten schedule of any team in the conference entering Tuesday night, according to Kenpom.com, will face a tough closing slate that includes games against Michigan State and at Ohio State.
Conversely, the win gives the Terrapins a resume-anchoring data point that could bump them up a seed line. SI.com bubble watcher Michael Beller pegged Maryland on the No. 4 line in his latest bracket. The selection committee could reward the Terps with a better seed if they can navigate a manageable late schedule stretch featuring games against Michigan, at Rutgers and at Nebraska.
Maryland was able to notch its biggest win of the season, while denying Wisconsin a chance to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title, on Tuesday in large part because Wisconsin operated below its typical level on the offensive end. The Badgers rank first in the Big Ten and second in the country in Kenpom’s adjusted offensive efficiency, yet on Tuesday they scored 0.96 points per possession, compared to 1.07 for Maryland.
This was an ugly offensive showing for a team that typically outperforms its opponents on that end of the floor with relative ease. Having Kaminsky available helped, but ultimately Wisconsin was not able to overcome shooting 38.5 percent from the floor and 27.3 percent from three combined with an inability to contain Maryland guards Dez Wells and Melo Trimble.
Things were particularly dire for the Badgers in the first half, when they shot 8-for-27 from the floor and a putrid 1-for-11 from three-point range. Meanwhile, Maryland connected on 13 of its 24 shot attempts to take an 11-point lead into the break. Still, even though Wisconsin faced a double-digit deficit on the road, it seemed the Badgers could claw back with even a slight offensive uptick.
Kaminsky, who finished with a team-high 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting, helped Wisconsin bounce back by scoring his team’s first four buckets after the break. That stretch narrowed Maryland’s lead to two, but the Terrapins got timely scoring from senior Wells and Trimble down the stretch.
Wells threw down a monster dunk with just under four minutes remaining, and Trimble iced the game by scoring Maryland’s final six points, including an impressive driving layup with 33 seconds remaining that sent the XFINITY Center into a frenzy. Wells scored a game-high 26 points, and Trimble added 16 on 7-of-14 shooting.
(hover to play; footage: ESPN)
While the main focus for both teams in the wake of this game involves tourney seeding, consider its impact for a Maryland program that hasn’t reached the NCAAs since 2010. Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon entered this season amid speculation that he was coaching for his job. Now Maryland trails Big Ten-leading Wisconsin by only two games for first place in the league.
How “good” the Terrapins truly are is a matter of some debate. According to Kenpom.com, only one team in Division I has benefited from more Luck—the disparity between a team’s win-loss record and the expectation based on that team’s efficiencies on a game-by-game basis—than the Terrapins this season. Indeed, Maryland has won six of its games by four points or fewer.
That may not bode well for Maryland’s chances of advancing in the NCAA tournament, but the fact that the Terps are in position to comfortably make the field in late February is impressive considering what many expected of them prior to the start of the season: They were predicted to finish 10th in the Big Ten's preseason media poll. Maryland should continue to make that projection look silly when it hosts (14-13) Michigan on Saturday.