Perhaps no Big Ten team has been as fleeting as the Maryland Terrapins this season. The team has been inconsistent for much of the season and now finds itself in an interesting position heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
The Terps have already secured an NCAA Tournament bid, but can the team finally turn the corner and prove it belongs among the nation’s elite? Let’s take a look.
As the five seed, Maryland narrowly missed out on the double-bye to Wisconsin after dropping a few games down the stretch. As a result, the Terps will now be forced to open play in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday against the winner of Wednesday’s early game between Nebraska and Rutgers.
There’s little debating that Maryland is a better team on paper than Nebraska and Rutgers. The Terps have a 22-9 overall record and are ranked in the top 20 nationally on KenPom. Meanwhile, Nebraska and Rutgers are both around .500 overall and aren’t even among the top 40 nationally on KenPom. Maryland also went 3-0 against these two teams during the regular season.
Perhaps the biggest concern on Thursday for Maryland will be how the Terps perform coming off a rest day. My belief has always been than the winner of the Wednesday games have an inherent advantage over the single-bye teams on Thursday. They’re already warmed up, have played on the floor, and know the sight lines. Meanwhile, Maryland will have to get used to unfamiliar circumstances against a team that knows its season is riding entirely on that game.
Rutgers has a weaker advantaged stats profile than Nebraska, but neither looks like a significantly easier opponent for the Terps. Still, there’s little doubt that whoever wins will come at Maryland with everything they have on Thursday. Either way, Maryland will simply be hoping to avoid an upset.
If Nebraska wins on Wednesday, Maryland will have to focus on trying to slow down James Palmer. If it’s Rutgers, Maryland’s primary challenge will be slowing down Geo Baker. The pressure will be on Anthony Cowan to get the job done.
-If They Advance
Should Maryland take care of business on Thursday, it will face off against Wisconsin on Friday afternoon. There’s no denying that it would be a tough matchup for the Terps. Unlike the opening round, Maryland would probably be an underdog in this game. Wisconsin is 12th nationally on KenPom and is playing really good basketball, having won five of its last six games.
However, Maryland would have the advantage of having already played the day before (the same disadvantage Maryland has on Thursday). Wisconsin will be the cold team this time. Moreover, Wisconsin has also shown some upset potential this season. The Badgers dropped games to Indiana, Minnesota, and Western Kentucky already this season (all lower than Maryland on KenPom) and nearly dropped games to Northwestern and Ohio State as well. The teams split their matchups in the regular season.
Should Maryland get past Wisconsin, it would then likely face Michigan State on Saturday. The other options are Indiana and Ohio State, assuming they somehow manage to get past the Spartans. Maryland would certainly prefer either of these two, considering it went 3-0 against these teams during the regular season.
However, assuming it is Michigan State, things are going to be challenging. On paper, there’s no denying that Michigan State is a better team. The Spartans are 25-6 overall, 16-4 in Big Ten play, and have won seven of the team’s last eight games. Michigan State is also fourth nationally on KenPom and the program hasn’t lost its Big Ten Tournament opener since 2010. That’s eight straight opening round wins for Michigan State in the conference tournament. An incredible accomplishment.
However, Michigan State has shown some vulnerability. The Spartans got swept by Indiana during the regular season and dropped a road game to Illinois in February. Maryland did lose by double-digits to the Spartans on the road on January 21st, but both teams have certainly played a lot of basketball since then.
After that, Maryland would likely be looking at either Michigan or Purdue in a potential championship game. Those three teams are all ranked above Maryland on KenPom, so things would be getting even tougher at that point.
Maryland enters the Big Ten Tournament in a much different position than many of its most recent seasons. The Terps are perceived to be somewhere in the upper-middle of the league, but have already locked up an NCAA Tournament bid. More simply put, there isn’t much riding on this week. Maryland has relatively low expectations and little on the line, but plenty to gain if it shows up well.
And the seeding itself really puts this into perspective. Maryland should win its first game, but who knows after that. Wisconsin is arguably a better team on paper and Michigan State looks even better. Nobody is going to be upset if the Terps go 1-1 this weekend. But it also wouldn’t be that surprising if the team reeled off a few wins and made it to Saturday as well. It’s just that kind of position.
All told, Terp fans are hoping that Maryland can finally turn the corner this week. Maryland has enough talent to play with anybody in the Big Ten. But can the Terps elevate from the league’s middle to its upper tier? We’ll find out this week.