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Maryland will look to finally click on all cylinders as it clings to any bubble hopes

It’s now or never time for Anthony Cowan and company if they want to dance

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Pop quiz! Which of the Big Ten’s 14 full member institutions (sorry, Johns Hopkins) was the last to claim college basketball’s top prize? If you guessed Maryland, you’re kinda sorta right!

Granted the 2002 Terps, led by Steve Blake and Juan Dixon, were members of the ACC at the time, but that doesn’t take away the bragging rights it owns over the rest of its midwestern conference foes.

And while bragging rights are all nice and dandy, the time since that National Championship hasn’t exactly been all rainbows and sunshine for Testudo and friends.

That’s because over the past 16 years, Maryland has made it to the Sweet Sixteen a whopping two times. Even worse, its managed to miss the NCAA Tournament all together on seven different occasions.

This lack of postseason success isn’t at all what those in College Park are used to. Couple that mounting frustration with Maryland’s inability to gain any traction since it’s move to the Big Ten and you have a reason to panic.

Add in the Terps 8th place finish in the conference standings along with being on the wrong side of the bubble in 2017-‘18 and you’ve got a full-fledged revolt on your hands.

Yes, we all know Maryland is known for crab cakes and football, but under Gary Williams’ watchful eye, college basketball earned a rightful place on the state’s mantel.

But those best of times have unfortunately shifted into the worst of times for Terp Nation. If Mark Turgeon has any hopes of flipping the script on his programs downward momentum, he’s going to need to kick his team into high gear over the next week.

No longer can Maryland be the tortoise as slow and steady apparently is only good enough to finish 8th. It needs to embrace its inner hare and go on a run for the ages to get this ship righted.

-Opening Round

Finishing in the middle of the pact creates a whole litany of problems, first of which is an opening round matchup that ostensibly is a coin flip. Thursday afternoon’s game against the Wisconsin Badgers isn’t quite a pick’em, but it’s damn near close.

According to KenPom, who favors Maryland by three points on a neutral court, the scales are tilted ever so slightly towards the Terps. But Wisconsin has been playing some inspired basketball lately and if there was ever a time you wanted to play the Badgers, now isn’t it.

All season long, the recipe for beating Wisconsin was to take away Ethan Happ and dare anyone else to beat you. And that plan had its merits, as Happ is nearly averaging a double-double this year with 17.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

That’s no longer the case, however, thanks to the continued development of freshmen Brad Davison.

The 6-foot-3 guard has been lurking all year, showing flashes of what he could bring to the table. Against Michigan State last week, everything clicked and he had a true coming out party by dropping 30 points in a near-upset of the conference champions.

Suddenly the Badgers have a one-two punch that will allow them to play inside-out while easing the pressure on Happ’s shoulders.

And with that dynamic duo having emerged, the Terps are in for a far more difficult challenge than Wisconsin appeared to be even a few weeks ago.

-If They Advance

Oh and speaking of Michigan State, should Maryland be able to fight its way past Wisconsin, the row to hoe gets no easier as a matchup with the Spartans would await.

This has been said ad nauseam but the top half of the tournament bracket is an absolute murderers row. It’s a shame too, as had Maryland actually slipped to the 10 seed, its first two games would have lined up with winnable matchups against Penn State and Ohio State.

Instead, with each win the Terps manage to pull off, an even hotter and daunting opponent will appear, making for quite a difficult gauntlet full of Badgers, Spartans, Wolverines, and Cornhuskers. Side note: Is there any less ferocious of a mascot than a Cornhusker? Shouldn’t Nebraska claim its moniker is offensive to Nebraskans and change it to something scarier? I digress.

Point being that for a team very much on the wrong side of the bubble, putting together a winning streak that propels them into the dance is near-impossible.

Overall

If you threw out the brackets and asked which underdog had the best chance to put together a run next week, my answer would have been the Maryland Terrapins.

Anthony Cowan is one of my favorite players to watch, and his omission from the conference’s All-Big Ten second team is a snub that won’t garner enough attention.

Bruno Fernando is a player that, as a basketball fan, I’d love to see continue to develop in school and, as a Penn State fan, am quietly hoping he elects to forgo his eligibility to enter the NBA Draft. He’s a beast of a player in the making who is already pretty freaking good and will only continue to get better.

Kevin Huerter has such a beautiful jump shot that it seems like a failure that he’s only shooting 42-percent from behind the arc.

And Mark Turgeon…is a basketball coach.

By the sum of its parts, Maryland has the talent necessary to win four games in four days. That’s part of the reason this season has been such a disappointment. This team is much better than its record dictates. This is a team that should be easily dancing.

Unfortunately, it looks like any lingering bubbles around the Terps will be getting popped rather quickly. The bracket is very unkind and the odds are not in Maryland’s favor.

No, it’s not impossible for this team to make a run, just far more likely that its stay in New York is the exclamation point on a lost and disappointing season.