The No. 20 Wisconsin Badgers (2-1) put their 30-game home winning streak on the line tonight as they host the No. 13 Maryland Terrapins (3-0) in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers are fresh off a 75-61 loss to Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif., where they committed 22 turnovers and were outscored by the Wave 25-4 over the first 10:07 of the second half. The Terps travel to Madison after an easy win over No. 25 Memphis, 84-61, on a neutral court in Springfield, Mass., in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic.
In what has become a mild rivalry, the Badgers and Terps will square off for the fourth time in five years, with three of those meetings having occurred in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Last year, Wisconsin fell in an overtime thriller to Maryland, 73-67, at the Comcast Center in College Park. Despite the regular pairing, this will be the Terps’ first visit to Madison since 1931. The two schools met in Milwaukee for their 2000 Challenge game, with the Badgers out-dueling the heavily favored Terps in overtime, 78-75, in what would be Dick Bennett’s last game as head coach at Wisconsin.
This season, Maryland returns four starters and 11 letter-winners from last year’s ACC title team. Led by junior floor general and 2004 ACC Tournament MVP John Gilchrist, the Terps are an athletic, balanced squad that likes to run in transition. Gilchrist, who is quickly becoming one of the best players in the country, is averaging 13.7 points for the Terps, while also contributing seven assists and more than six rebounds per game. Junior forward Nik Caner-Medley paces the Terps with a 16-point per game average, but head coach Gary Williams’ squad boasts five players on a double-figure clip.
Paired in the frontcourt with Caner-Medley is powerful big man Travis Garrison, a 6-foot-8 forward who paces the Terps with 7.3 rebounds per game. The junior, who was tabbed by The Sporting News as one of the ACC’s breakout players this season, is also averaging 11.3 points per contest.
Shooting guard Chris McCray, who scored 16 points against Wisconsin in last year’s meeting, is again paired with Gilchrist in the backcourt. McCray is averaging 14 points and 5.7 rebounds, while sixth man and defensive specialist D.J. Strawberry rounds out the Terps double-figure scorers with an average of 10.7 points per game.
Center Ekene Ibekwe is the lone first-year starter for Maryland. He replaces the graduated Jamar Smith, who torched the Badgers for 25 points and 12 rebounds in last season’s meeting. Ibekwe is a long, lean post presence who can be an intimidating shot-blocker.
Much like Pepperdine’s performance against Wisconsin, Maryland was out-rebounded and traveled to the line fewer times than their opponent in Friday’s meeting against Memphis. The Terps, however, forced 21 Tiger turnovers, which contributed to 32 points. Gilchrist led the way with 16 points, while also recording 10 rebounds, seven assists and five steals in the win.
After giving up the ball 22 times to Pepperdine, the Badgers must take better care of the ball against the Terps. Maryland is averaging an astounding 13.7 steals per game, and defensively they’re about as sound as teams come in the ACC.
The Badgers also can’t get caught in an open court game with the more athletic Terps. Despite the Badgers’ depth and conditioning, UW simply can’t keep up with UM in the transition game. UW head coach Bo Ryan should keep a heavy rotation of substitutions to counter an energetic Maryland lineup, but the Terps go about eight deep with Strawberry, freshman forward James Gist and sophomore guard Mike Jones all providing a lift off the bench for Williams’ squad.
Tonight marks Ryan’s 100th game as head coach for UW. Ryan has accrued a record of 70-29 over his three-plus seasons in Madison, becoming just the second Badger coach to notch 70 wins in his first 100 games. Walter “Doc” Meanwell took the program to a 91-9 over his first 100 games, which included a 33 home-win streak at the Fieldhouse.
Ryan and the Badgers will face quite a challenge against the Terps in extending what is currently the second-longest home winning streak in the nation.