After an 8-0 start to the season, Maryland men’s basketball’s status as a contender in the conference is dwindling. The Terps have lost four straight against Power Five opponents. Maryland’s most recent defeat came in the form of a 35-point beatdown by Michigan on Sunday, the Terps’ largest loss since they joined the Big Ten.
Following the game, head coach Kevin Willard took full accountability, saying that loss was on him and he needs to be better at getting his team prepared. The Terps have to learn from their embarrassing loss to Michigan but also need to put it in the rearview mirror quickly as they head to Rutgers for another tough Big Ten matchup.
Rutgers, on the other hand, is riding high after upsetting No. 1 Purdue on the road Monday night. It was the second straight season Rutgers knocked off Purdue when it was ranked as the top team in the country.
Maryland will play the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, New Jersey, at Jersey Mike’s Arena Thursday at 6:30 p.m. The game will air on Big Ten Network.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights 10-4 (2-1 Big Ten)
Head coach Steve Pikiell has revived Rutgers basketball in his six full seasons in New Jersey. When Pikiell took over, the Scarlet Knights hadn't made the NCAA Tournament since 1991. Rutgers made the dance in both 2021 and 2022, looking to make it three in a row this season. The Scarlet Knights are certainly on pace to earn an at-large bid as they look like one of the better teams in the Big Ten through 13 games.
Not only has Rutgers emerged as a relevant and top-tier program in the Big Ten in recent years, but Jersey Mike’s Arena — formally known as the RAC — is one of the toughest places for opponents to play in the entire country. KenPom.com ranks Rutgers as the 16th-best team in the country, 20 spots ahead of Maryland.
Players to know
Clifford Omoruyi, junior center, 6-foot-11, No. 11 — Omoruyi has continued his ascension as one of the elite big men in a conference full of them. After being named an All-Big Ten honorable mention as a sophomore, Omoruyi is off to terrific start in his junior season. The Nigeria native leads the team in scoring, averaging 14.8 points per game, and has the most rebounds on the squad. Julian Reese and Maryland are in for a long day against Omoruyi.
Cam Spencer, senior guard, 6-foot-4, No. 10 — Spencer is a great scoring threat and has extended range. He leads the team in 3-point attempts and makes while shooting 44% from deep. The senior is averaging 12.9 points per game, the second most on the team. He also leads the team in assists.
Aundre Hyatt, junior forward, 6-foot-6, No. 5 — Hyatt is the perfect compliment to Omoruyi in the frontcourt as another dominant big who likes to stretch the floor with his jumper. Hyatt averages double-digit points and is a good rebounder. He is also a terrific free-throw shooter, and while he doesn't shoot a high 3-point percentage, he has the second-most attempts from long range.
Three-point defense. Rutgers has been a stout defensive team all season, but its strength as a defense is defending the 3-point shot. Opponent are shooting just 24.6% against the Scarlet Knights, the best mark in the Big Ten. That does not bode well for a Maryland team that has looked horrific offensively in recent games and has not shot the ball well from three.
Three-point shooting. While Rutgers is great at defending the three, it isn’t so great at shooting it. Rutgers’ offense is not centered around 3-points attempts — the Scarlet Knights look to get downhill and pound it inside. That strategy is likely due to Rutgers’ lack of shooters in the rotation. Rutgers has made the lowest number of 3-pointers in the Big Ten by a wide margin.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland’s offense bounce back against the best defense in the Big Ten? There may not be an adjective that properly describes how atrocious Maryland’s offense has been in recent weeks against Power Five opponents. Against Michigan, the Terps didn’t score a point until more than five minutes into the game and didn’t make a field goal until almost eight minutes in. Maryland has gone away from its up-tempo offense that was showcased in the beginning of the season, and the Terps are simply not hitting shots. Now, it is tasked against the top-ranked defense in the Big Ten, which could lead to another ugly showing.
2. Can Maryland rebound effectively? Maryland is a small team and has been bullied on the boards against teams with quality bigs. That was evident against Michigan, and with the size and athleticism Rutgers possesses, it will be evident once again. Maryland has the fifth-worst rebounding margin in the Big Ten, while Rutgers has the fourth-best. Maryland has to prioritize rebounding as a team effort, and not just rely on its big men down low to crash the glass.
3. Will Maryland show the effort from the beginning of the season? Besides the fact Maryland was racking up wins to start the season, the Terps were garnering national praise because of the intensity and effort they displayed every game. That appears to have gone away in recent weeks, most notably in an embarrassing first half against Michigan. With its offense struggling, Maryland will have to get back to playing with maximum effort on the defensive end, beginning at Rutgers.