Jess Settles, BTN Basketball Analyst, January 21, 2015

This week, I take a look at Wisconsin's near-perfect game against Iowa, Maryland's suffocating defense and Big Ten scheduling.

1. Badgers are hitting their stride at the right time

Wisconsin?s Bo Ryan is relentlessly searching for the perfect performance from his Badgers, and his veteran squad came close to delivering one on Tuesday night ay the Kohl Center. No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 25 Iowa battled for first place in the early Big Ten season and the game wasn?t ever close.

Wisconsin buried six 3-pointers in the first half by passing up good shots for great shots. Against a long and talented Hawkeye squad, they handed out 16 totals assists, and turned the ball over a whopping one time! The score at halftime was 35-17.

Iowa flew into Madison on a roll. Jarrod Uthoff hit a game-winner at Minnesota and the Hawkeyes controlled Ohio State in their two previous contests. But the Badger's defense was stellar and Wisconsin never allowed Iowa to gain confidence.

Wisconsin eliminated Iowa?s fast break and defended the Hawkeyes without fouling, committing only three fouls in the first half. The Hawkeyes live at the free throw line and are second only to Maryland in free throws attempted at 26.2 per game in conference play. Against Wisconsin, Iowa finished a measly 4-10 from the stripe.

With all of the highlights Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker put together over 40 minutes, there are two stats that explain the efficiency Wisconsin is playing with. Wisconsin is No. 1  in the nation in fewest turnovers at 7.8 per game. The Badgers also rank No. 1 in the nation in preventing opponents from getting to the line, holding teams to only 12.3 attempts per contest. The Badgers weren?t perfect against Iowa, but they couldn?t have played much better.


2. Maryland's defense continues to shine

As good as No. 13 Maryland has been this season, coach Mark Turgeon has been frustrated with his team?s offensive inefficiencies in Big Ten play. The Terps were shooting 33 percent from the field to start Big Ten play heading into their much-anticipated game against Michigan State. Like all great teams, Maryland plays excellent defense and on the nights when their shots aren?t falling, the Terps parade to the free throw line. Maryland is averaging a league leading 26.5 free throw attempts in Big Ten play.

Maryland is ranked No. 2  in field goal percentage defense, holding foes to 38 percent. As impressive as freshman sensation Melo Trimble has been, he was shooting only 24 percent from downtown heading into the Michigan State game. With first place in the conference on the line, Maryland?s offense finally came alive and the Terps blew away the gritty Spartans. Trimble scored 21 first half points and drilled six threes on the day. Jake Layman seemed unstoppable and was awarded the Big Ten Player of the week award for his 23 point, 12 rebound effort. Maryland?s defense continues to shine as they held Sparty to 3-17 shooting from the 3-point line.

In two battles this year, my BTN teammate and research guru Harold ?Sparty? Shelton points out that the Terrapins have held the Spartans to 8-39 (20.5%) from beyond the arc. Michigan State is shooting the three at 40 percent against everyone else. Marlyland also shut down last week?s Player of the Week, Travis Trice, holding the sharpshooter to just five points and forcing him into committing five turnovers. Shelton also points out that Maryland and Wisconsin each have three stars who can score, and even when one is struggling, the other two can win games. That proved to be the case against his beloved Spartans as Dez Wells was held in check, but Layman and Trimble carried Maryland to a 17-2 record.


3. Big Ten facing scheduling questions

With Maryland and Wisconsin both winning separation games against Iowa and Michigan State, I was looking forward to their two head-to-head battles that could decide the regular season title. The problem is, they only play each other once.

With the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, the conference schedule has altered the destiny of the Big Ten race. With the way the schedule falls, Wisconsin plays Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State and Indiana only once. Maryland only plays Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin once. The simplest solution is to add two more conference games. Many Big Ten coaches aren?t in favor of additional conference games, but it needs to happen. Besides better attendance, TV ratings, and exciting conference battles, the NCAA selection committee rewards college basketball teams with a tough strength of schedule and quality road wins. What are your opinions or solutions to this frustrating dilemma?