The Maryland Terrapins saw their journey for a Big Ten Tournament title come to an end after a 64-61 defeat at the hands of the Michigan State Spartans. It marked the closing of a chapter in what has been labeled as one of the most anticipated Terrapin basketball seasons in school history. The Terrapins will now take a 25-8 record into the Big Dance and will look to advance to at least the sweet 16 where they haven't been since the 2003 season. Before we dive into the NCAA Tournament outlook, let's take a trip down memory lane and recap the 2015-16 regular season and Big Ten Tournament.
The Maryland Terrapins started the regular season ranked No. 3 in the ESPN preseason rankings, and for good reason. Coming off a second round appearance in the 2015 tournament, returning the core nucleus of talent that got them there and bringing in key pieces like Diamond Stone and Rasheed Sulaimon. Having skilled power forward Robert Carter Jr. finally eligible gave the Terrapins one of the most talented starting lineups in the country.
Heading into the season, the popular opinion amongst Terrapins enthusiasts was to expect a certain amount of struggle in the non-conference slate as the new pieces find time to adjust to sophomore Melo Trimble and the other key cogs that got Maryland to the tournament the prior season - the polar opposite happened in the first 12 games.
After getting out to an impressive 6-0 start, the Terrapins suffered their first loss of the season at the hands of the North Carolina Tarheels. Senior guard Marcus Paige made his season debut against the Terps and helped guide them to a 89-81 victory. After their bout with the Tarheels, Maryland went 5-0 in remaining non-conference slate of games with its most impressive victory coming against UCONN in the Jimmy V Classic back in December.
The Terps entered the Big Ten slate of games with an impressive 11-1 record. After experimenting with freshman Diamond Stone or junior Damonte Dodd in the starting lineup, Stone's scoring prowess and overall skill set was deemed too good to have coming off the bench. Stone's epic performance against Penn State in December helped solidify not only his starting spot, but also his draft stock.
Maryland started 5-0 in the Big Ten before falling at Michigan 70-67. After taking care of business against Ohio State and Northwestern, the Michigan State Spartans gave the Terrapins their second conference loss. Maryland bounced back nicely by winning their next five games, but momentum would quickly get away from the Terps after their victory against Bowie State.
Maryland came across the Wisconsin Badgers for the second time in the regular season back in February, and the experience of their January 9 tilt with the Badgers was not replicated. Maryland fell to Wisconsin 70-57 at home and followed that up with an embarrassing loss to Minnesota. After barely hanging on to victory against Michigan, the Purdue Boilermakers flexed their muscles at Mackey Arena to give Maryland their third loss in four games. A victory over short-handed Illinois and an abysmal performance against Indiana allowed for a 24-7 record heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
Big Ten Tournament
The Terrapins entered the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 3 seed with the coveted double-bye through the first two days. After an Nebraska upset over Wisconsin, the Terps squared off with the young Cornhuskers. The Terrapins seized control for most of the game, but had to withstand a furious comeback attempt by Nebraska to finally claim a 97-86 victory.
Maryland met Michigan State in the second semifinal of the tournament on Saturday and with a valiant effort, the journey to the conference championship game fell short with a final score of 64-61. The question for the Terps after the conclusion of their run in the conference tournament was where they would land on the NCAA tournament bracket.
NCAA Tournament Outlook
The Terrapins landed on the 5-seed line in the south region and will take on the 12-seed South Dakota State Jackrabbits out of the Summit League. The Jackrabbits enter the tournament as the Summit League conference tournament champions with a 26-7 record. They are led by 6'9, 245-pound freshman forward Mike Daum who averages an impressive 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. South Dakota State features three players who average at least 10 points per game and five players who average at least four rebounds per game.
One of Maryland's biggest problems throughout the season has been rebounding, and South Dakota State averages 38 boards per game - three more than Maryland. Another problem that can be cause for concern for the Terrapins is playing a program who is predicated on playing small to combat bigger lineups. The Jackrabbits' tallest player who logs major minuets is Daum at 6'9.
Maryland will need a solid defensive effort on the perimeter in order to move past South Dakota State. From there, Maryland will either face the 4-seed California or 13-seed Hawaii. If that region goes chalk, the Golden Bears will do battle with Maryland in Spokane, Washington.
If the Terrapins move on to the sweet-16, they could go up against No. 1 seed Kansas. The road is tough for Maryland. The small ball battle against South Dakota State could be troublesome against the NBA sized lineup of the Terrapins, but size could prevail. A potential matchup with California could put two of the most talented rosters up against each other. The region isn't good for Maryland. Traveling cross country and possibly playing California in Pac-12 country could be too much to overcome. Of course, the idea of Kansas vs. Maryland in the sweet-16 would be ideal for Terrapins fans, but overcoming two games in the pacific time zone could be too much to overcome for a long run in the Big Dance.