While the Maryland Terrapins entered this season with a host of question marks following key roster departures from last season, it left a lot of room for needed growth among both fans and the returning players. They certainly needed it as the Terps finished with a 9-11 record in Big Ten action. As a result, the team earned the 8 seed in this week’s Big Ten Tournament.
But can the Terps surprise in Indy? Let’s take a look.
As the 8 seed, Maryland has the opening game on Thursday in Big Ten Tournament play against Michigan State. While not as terrible as a Wednesday game, and there are some rest advantages provided by having the first game of the day over the course of the tournament, the path to Sunday is the most difficult of second day starts by seeding.
_________ will be cutting down the nets Sunday? pic.twitter.com/umsMb9qEoV— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 8, 2021
Still, the opening matchup offers a promising opportunity for Maryland. The Terps downed Michigan State by 18 points in the teams’ only matchup just 11 days ago. The Terps brought an absolute lock down defense to the game against the Spartans and immediately jumped out to an 11-point lead MSU could never really break. The Terps have the game plan for how to beat Michigan State already and the confidence in knowing they have done so.
However, that Spartan squad was coming off a brutal week of games against back-to-back top-5 opponents while Maryland had seven days rest. The Spartans defense was sloppy and left wide open three’s that Maryland drained at a clip far higher than their season average. They also got to the line repeatedly and made free throws at a higher clip than the season average. Meanwhile, dead legs on the Spartan end saw them refuse to put pressure on the Maryland zone and settle for long threes that never had a chance on tired legs.
Again, Maryland won the matchup fair and square, though. The Terps played hard and kep the Spartans rally late in the second from ever being within true striking distance. Their pressure driving the ball and hitting the open man exploited a weak lineup the Michigan State staff threw against the team and provided valuable experience at how to beat the team.
-If They Advance
Should Maryland beat Michigan State on Thursday, the Terps would then move on to face Michigan on Friday morning. This would be another scenario of the cliché claim that it is difficult to beat the same team three times in a season. The Terps fell 84-73 on New Years day to Michigan in College Park, then again 87-63 in Ann Arbor on Jan. 19.
However, with Eli Brooks unlikely to make a return to the court following an ankle injury against the Spartans Sunday, this will be a different Wolverines squad than what Maryland faced earlier in the season. Not to underscore the impressive roster the Wolverines feature, but the fact is two of their three losses on the season were in road games in which Eli Brooks was not playing his normal minutes in a game. The guard’s absence would be a big boost for Maryland’s roster.
With all of that said, the Terps are still a squad that a generally small lineup. While Eli Brooks scored just 3 points in the second game against Maryland, he scored 26 in College Park and forward Isaiah Livers scored 20 in the second game at Michigan. It will still be a tall task for the Terps for overcome the big men on the Wolverines roster.
If Maryland makes it past Michigan, it would then most likely face either Ohio State or Purdue. The Terps managed to split the games against Purdue, and both were close ones. Maryland fell to the Boilermakers 73-70 in West Lafayette before downing them 61-60 in College Park. They also gave the Buckeyes a challenge in a 73-65 loss in College Park as well. Yet another matchup against either could be the game the Terps need.
After that, Maryland would likely have to get through Illinois or Iowa for the Big Ten Tournament title on Sunday. A repeat upset of Illinois seems daunting with how the Illini have played since their home loss in mid-January, and Iowa easily handled Maryland just three days prior to the Terps’ Illinois upset win. Neither game is a promising prospect for Maryland.
It has been a rebuilding season in College Park. However, the team has a chance to improve their seeding for the selection committee in what will be a brutal conference tournament. The wins won’t be easy, especially in this year’s Big Ten, but the Terps have shown a knack for making doubters pay.