Admittedly, the Big Ten’s slate on Wednesday didn’t look all that intriguing. Minnesota went on the road to face Penn State in the early game and Northwestern hosted Maryland afterward. But of course, you can never underestimate college basketball.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
Roughly one month ago, Maryland stood at a crossroads. The Terps were 10-10 overall, 4-9 in Big Ten play, and appeared on track to miss the NCAA Tournament. Fans were starting to get uncomfortable and many even started calling for Mark Turgeon’s job. It wasn’t a pretty picture and nobody seemed confident things would improve.
But improve they did. Maryland not only got off the mat, but proceeded to win five straight, including a game on the road against Rutgers and a blowout victory over a red hot Michigan State team last Sunday. The streak reassured fans and pushed the Terps into solid position for the NCAAs, despite the early struggles. Fans were hoping Maryland would put the finishing touches on its resume this week with Northwestern and Penn State.
Unfortunately for Terp fans, that train came to a halt on Wednesday night.
Despite jumping out to an early lead, Maryland’s offense struggled for consistency and finished with a putrid 0.86 points per possession. Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell had decent games, but everyone else was a no show. The frontcourt was particularly unimpressive, as Donta Scott, Jairus Hamilton, and Galin Smith combined for four points. Boo Buie led the Wildcats to victory with 15 points and one rebound.
For Northwestern, this win will be a nice shot in the arm heading into the offseason. The Wildcats have now won two straight after struggling for most of January and February. The team improved to 8-14 overall and 5-13 in Big Ten play. Northwestern will hope to keep things rolling on Sunday at home against Nebraska.
On the other side, Maryland fell to 15-11 overall and 9-10 in Big Ten play with the loss. The Terps still remain a good bet for the NCAAs, but this is going to be a damaging loss. Sunday’s home game against Penn State now feels even more important. We’ll see if the team can come out with a win.
-Penn State Nittany Lions 84, Minnesota Golden Gophers 65
This game got out of hand pretty early, with Penn State taking a double-digit lead into halftime and never looking back. It was a complete butt kicking, with most of the closing minutes dedicated to unloading the bench and some highlight dunks. Trent Buttrick led the way with 13 points and seven rebounds.
For Minnesota, this is the end of the road. It’s hard to even contextulize how bad the team has been down the stretch. At one point this season, the Gophers were 11-4 overall with three wins against top 10 KenPom teams, two more over top 60 teams, and all four losses coming on the road against top 15 opponents. This felt like a team destined for big things.
But instead of continuing that fast start, Minnesota followed it up by going 2-9 down the stretch. And that run is even worse when you consider two of the losses came at home and seven of the nine losses came against teams ranked outside the top 25 on KenPom. Those struggles have not only bumped Minnesota from most NCAA projections, but well outside the margin for error. It really feels unlikely the Gophers can make it now without a massive run in the Big Ten Tournament.
Both teams will return to action this weekend. Penn State gets Maryland on the road on Sunday while Minnesota gets Rutgers at home on Saturday.