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The Starting 5: Wisconsin vs. Maryland basketball preview

Can UW get back to winning ways against the equally struggling Maryland Terrapins?

At home or on the road, it hasn’t mattered much for the Wisconsin Badgers as of late. After a pair of home games earlier this week, the Badgers will hit the road for a clash with the Maryland Terrapins on Sunday afternoon.

Wisconsin comes in having dropped , but Maryland is struggling almost to the Badgers equal. The Terps have dropped six of their last eight games and three straight heading in to this game.

Could this be a matchup that ends the Badgers misery? Let’s take a look inside the game and our Starting 5 for today’s matchup with Maryland.

Tip is scheduled for Noon CT and can be seen on CBS.

Streaky Badgers

There’s no secret to what has taken the Badgers down this season — it’s inability to consistently score. Wisconsin comes in to this game averaging a woeful 61.8 points per game in Big Ten play, with only Rutgers being worse at putting points up in conference play.

Last time out this was on full display, as Northwestern raced out to an 18-1 lead before watching the Badgers claw their way back with a 10-1 run that made the game 19-11 with 11:23 to play in the first half. But, Northwestern answered with an 11-4 run to make it 30-15 immediately following UW’s hard work to get back in the game.

I think you get the point here — Wisconsin has to find a way to avoid being a streaky team. They have got to hold teams from big runs and the need to make huge runs to stay in games themselves. It forces UW in to being a perimeter team, and that isn’t their strength at all this season.

Let’s see if the Badgers can avoid the massive swings in scoring.

Happ-ily Take Advantage of Maryland?

Ethan Happ is Wisconsin’s best player by a mile this season, and teams have taken to triple and quadruple-teaming him at times. But, Maryland comes in to this game likely without starting center Michal Cekovsky.

That means a mix of four other players that have varying degrees of experience in the mix. It’s most likely that the trio of Bruno Fernando, Sean Obi and Joshua Tomaic will see the majority of minutes and rotate against Happ.

Some teams have taken to the hack-a-Happ defense and if he shows signs of struggling from the line, having three bodies to rotate on Happ could work to their advantage. However, Happ may be able to equally abuse this group down low on both ends of the court. Such is the skill set that Happ brings to the table, and such is Wisconsin’s best hope for victory on Sunday.

Hard-Fighting Teams

This season is reduced to playing for pride for the Badgers, well pride and learning experience for the youngsters. Much is the same for Maryland, who are nearly UW’s equal in terms of what has happened to them this season on the injury front and in experience this season.

With the season’s over in terms of post-season play for both of these teams, the interesting thing is watching just how hard they are still playing. Both of these teams fight hard, with Maryland playing a ton of close games and the Badgers never giving up even if they are down a lot.

Mark Turgeon and Greg Gard have their teams still playing hard despite less than stellar results. Turgeon specifically mentioned that earlier this week.

“There’s a lot of fight in this team,” Turgeon said. “Considering the circumstances, I think we’re pretty confident. I think we believe in each other. It’s just putting a complete game together. … Playing smarter for 40 minutes is big for us.”

Sound familiar?

I know “trying hard” and “playing hard” are not substitutes for winning basketball games, but good coaches find ways to keep even their worst of teams motivated. Both are doing that to date, which one will see that hard-fighting spirit pay off on Sunday?

Iverson’s Unlucky Emergence

Say what? Isn’t it a good thing that the Badgers have found a second consistent scorer? Sure it is in theory, but in practice it hasn’t mattered much for UW this season.

Iverson is now averaging 9.3 points per game on the season, but he’s been an even bigger scorer as of late. He’s scored in double figures in four of the last five games and has hit in double digits in 6 of Wisconsin’s 11 Big Ten games to date. Over the past five games, Iverson is averaging a healthy 13.4 points per game.

Last time out, Iverson led the Badgers in scoring with 15 points and also pulled down 9 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists and 2 blocks.

Yet, Iverson’s emergence hasn’t mattered one bit to the win and loss column. Against Maryland, his athletic ability and ability to slash could be the difference maker. Will the duo of Happ and Iverson scoring in double figures finally pay off with a win in the record books? It’s only happened twice this season in Big Ten play.

Beyond Frustrating from Beyond the Arc

Wisconsin’s perimeter game has been downright dreadful, as UW is shooting just 33.1 percent on the season and an even worse 30.8 percent in B1G play.

Brad Davison’s injured left shoulder hasn’t helped his shooting touch and Brevin Pritzl is the most shy sharp-shooter I’ve ever seen. Couple that with Khalil Iverson’s 0-for-his career and Nate Reuvers inconsistency and you can see why the Badgers are struggling from deep. At least Aleem Ford can bury a needed triple or two off the bench.

So, three-point shooting isn’t exactly the Badgers strong suit. Apparently defending against the three-point shot isn’t Maryland’s strength either this year, as they rank 13th in three-point defense during Big Ten play (41.5 percent).

If the Badgers want to win on Sunday, getting something going from deep would be a huge help to Happ and Iverson’s inside game.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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