The Big Ten is a monster.
There’s no denying that Maryland men’s basketball has gone through the gauntlet, as it hit the road for three of its first four, and five of its first six, conference games.
Head coach Kevin Willard has stated how schedule dictates how you play, and his team was dealt a difficult hand. After winning its opening Big Ten game against Illinois at home on Dec. 2, the Terps suffered their first overall loss at Wisconsin on Dec. 6. The Terps then suffered back-to-back losses to Tennessee in New York and UCLA at home — two of the best teams in the nation — during the gap between early Big Ten play and its resumption in early January.
It seemed like the tide turned for the better at halftime of Maryland’s nail-biting loss at Purdue on Jan. 22, but the Terps sat at 3-5 in the Big Ten and firmly on the bubble on Jan. 22. The reality of Maryland’s first chunk of conference play is that 3-5 through eight games was a perfectly acceptable result. The Terps went through arguably the toughest schedule in the conference, as each of its five road games ranked as “Tier A” games on KenPom.com and two of their home games were against top-30 KenPom teams.
With their toughest slate behind them, it was evident that the Terps’ schedule would open up in their final 12 games, beginning when they returned home for a three-game homestand starting on Jan. 25. Maryland answered the bell, sweeping its homestand with wins over Wisconsin, Nebraska and No. 21 Indiana — each by double digits.
Despite doubts during a tough stretch in early January, the Terps sit firmly in the NCAA Tournament picture, ranking No. 33 in the NET and No. 31 on KenPom. Maryland has racked up four quadrant one wins, and it holds a 6-7 record within the first two quadrants (and no losses in the bottom two).
“I feel we’re getting punished because we played two bad games,” Willard said. “When I watch everyone else play bad games, they don’t seem to get punished. So I think it’s my job to start letting everybody realize we kicked a lot of people’s ass at the beginning of the year. We had two big guys hurt (Julian Reese and Patrick Emilien), and now we’re playing pretty good basketball again. I saw a team ranked top five lose by 28, and it was like ‘Oh, no big deal.’”
A 10-10 record in Big Ten play should secure an at-large bid, but the Terps will likely have to learn how to win games on the road; they have one road win at Louisville, which is barely a top-300 team, on Nov. 29. Maryland should carry its momentum from home into a first conference road win at Minnesota, the Big Ten’s worst team, on Saturday.
Regardless, the recipe for Maryland’s six Big Ten home wins has been vastly different from its five losses on the road. Let’s take a look at the numbers, which could provide a road remedy moving forward.
Maryland’s Big Ten home vs. road splits
|HOME (6 games)||ROAD (5 games)|
|HOME (6 games)||ROAD (5 games)|
|Points per game||72.66666667||55.4|
|Points per possession, via KenPom||1.172043011||0.8470948012|
|3-point attempts/field goal attempts||0.3405572755||0.3763066202|
The scoring and shooting disparities are simple. Obviously, Maryland is a better team at XFINITY Center. The building, especially with students in session, provides one of the best home-court atmospheres in America. The Terps have gotten off to fast starts at home, and Willard has said on multiple occasions that there were points before or early in games where he knew his team would win. Early made buckets allow the Terps to set up their press, a key to their winning identity. In road games at Michigan, Rutgers and Iowa, Maryland buried itself by limping out of the gate and was unable to get into its winning groove.
“Eighty-six percent of all college basketball games are won at home,” Willard said. “It’s really hard to win on the road. In this conference, it’s, with the way home court advantages, with the way the students are, and as good as players are, it’s really hard to win on the road. You got to play really well to win on the road.”
Maryland’s shot selection presented one of the more staggering statistical splits. The Terps are a bad 3-point shooting team; Maryland shoots 30.36% from behind the arc, the 323rd-best mark in Division I.
In wins against Ohio State and Wisconsin, Maryland averaged 40.7% from deep, but the shot selection was smart; the Terps only attempted 13 and 14 3-pointers, respectively, in those two games. In its last two games against Nebraska and Indiana, Maryland reverted to 45 combined 3-point attempts, and didn’t shoot nearly as well.
Willard has proven, especially against Indiana and at Purdue, that his teams can compete without shooting the ball at a high clip, but the selection needs to improve. This team is better when Jahmir Young, Donta Scott and Hakim Hart are all attacking the rim. Young gets to the rim with ease throughout each game, and Scott (29.3%) and Hart (30.6%) have struggled from deep. When the latter two get a head of steam toward the basket, they are matchup nightmares.
Maryland is not an elite offensive team — it ranks 10th in the Big Ten in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency during conference play — but when its game plan is at its best it can be good. When the Terps score more than one point per possession, they are 13-1.
The Terps pitched a defensive masterpiece against Indiana, and it is clear that side of the ball can lead it to big-time wins. Maryland held Purdue, which is fourth nationally in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency, to just 0.767 points per possession in the second half on Jan. 22, per StatBroadcast. Maryland also held both Indiana and Wisconsin — during the second meeting between the Terps and the Badgers — to under one point per possession throughout the whole game, per KenPom. If Maryland’s defensive intensity can translate for 40 minutes on the road, it will be just fine.
Maryland doesn’t need to be sensational offensively, but it needs to look at the trends and follow its winning blueprint.