Kevin Willard Evaluates Badgers, Talks Tyler Wahl’s Impact

#13 Maryland at Wisconsin

When: 9 PM

TV: ESPN2; Brian Custer (pxp), Robbie Hummel (analyst)

Radio: Johnny Holiday (pxp), Chris Knocke (analyst); FM 105.7 (Baltimore), 980 AM (DC)

Maryland returns to action for their first conference road game as they take on Wisconsin. Wisconsin has won the last two matchups, including a one-point contest at Xfinity Center in the last matchup.

The Badgers have proven themselves as a formidable opponent through the first stretch of the season after starting out 4-0 before falling 69-68 to third-ranked Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis on Thanksgiving Morning. After rebounding with a five-point win against USC, Wisconsin lost its first home game of the season against Wake Forest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge but rebounded with a three-point overtime win against Marquette on Saturday.

While the results have been inconsistent, Maryland head coach Kevin Willard took note of the Badgers’ potential on offense. “Wisconsin, obviously they shoot the ball very well, but man, you better play post defense and you better play physical. They’re gonna grind you up,” Willard added over the weekend. Tuesday’s matchup will be just the second time he’s ever faced the Badgers, though, as he looks to even his all-time record against them. Willard did see some similarities between Wisconsin and a former conference opponent.

“Probably the best compliment I can give ’em is they remind me of the Big Ten version of Villanova. They’re super steady. They’re not flashy, you’re not gonna watch them and be like, oh man, this team’s great. And then the more you watch ’em, the more you watch ’em, the more you watch ’em they’re like, man, this team is really good. They do what they do really well and that’s what Villanova always did. Villanova’s no tricks, no nothing. They just came down and did what they did. I think that’s what makes Wisconsin so good, is they do what they do really well.”

Versatile forward Tyler Wahl has proven himself as the spark this season as the preseason All-Big Ten selection leads the Badgers in points (14.5) and rebounds (7.1) while sitting third in steals. After averaging less than three points as a freshman, Wahl’s development has made him among the top big men in the conference and he’ll test Maryland’s frontcourt that’s thin but improved as evidenced on Friday night. “His motor is off the charts. He does it on both ends,” Willard said about the Wisconsin forward. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he does on both ends, but then, they post up Wahl and [Steven] Crowl and then you have Chucky Hepburn going off hitting 30 footers. So I just think they just do everything really, really consistent. They do what they do and they don’t go outside their lane and they do it really well.”

Donta Scott has been Maryland’s top scorer this season while Julian Reese has shown flashes on both ends of the court, but reserve forward Patrick Emilien is one filling the key role as the rotation piece in the frontcourt. “He had played, even though he hadn’t played high-level basketball, he had played a ton of minutes. And then watching him on film, he was exactly kind of what we needed. We didn’t have kind of a guy that could play four or five, multiple positions, so he was the right fit, he was the right type of character.”

Maryland will look to remain perfect one day after earning its highest ranking in the AP poll since the end of the 2019-20 season, while also debuting at sixth in the first NET rankings. Willard, though, hasn’t seen a shift in focus from his team in practice.

“We’ve kind of had to all have the same kind of focus. I don’t think the schedule allows us to kind of lose our focus. Obviously Wisconsin but then you turn around, you have Tennessee and UCLA coming up right after that. So I think these guys have been super focused on the fact that they understand we’re playing a really good Wisconsin team. We have to know what we’re doing against Wisconsin. So I think the schedule, although it’s brutal, has helped us keep our focus and kind of stay in our lane that we’ve been doing.”