Maryland men’s basketball completed its Big Ten home slate undefeated after cruising past No. 21 Northwestern, 75-59, on Sunday in front of a sold-out XFINITY Center crowd.
Maryland had its best 3-point shooting performance of the season, knocking in 14 threes on 22 attempts, the most it has made in any game this season. With the win, Maryland moved into second place in the Big Ten with two games to go.
It was one of Maryland’s most complete offensive performances this season as all five starters combined for double figures with Jahmir Young leading the way with 18 points on senior day. Young and Carey combined for eight threes.
Let’s get to some takeaways about what Maryland’s home record means for the program, how Maryland has shut down star players and what’s ahead for the Terps.
Maryland’s undefeated conference home record shows Kevin Willard has revived Maryland basketball.
When Kevin Willard was introduced at his opening press conference late last March, he stood on a podium at mid-court of the XFINITY Center and proclaimed he was going to bring the “swagger” back to Maryland basketball.
Willard’s hire wasn't a splashy one — it came with the intention of bringing a program back to national prominence, which Willard acknowledged was going to be a lengthy process. It remains to be seen whether Maryland will consistently compete for Big Ten and national championships for years to come, but if Willard accomplished anything in year one, he kept true to his word to restore “swagger” to Maryland.
The first step to reviving Maryland was reigniting the fan base and bringing life back to the XFINITY Center, which is one of the most electric atmospheres in the country when it’s engaged. That was evident in Maryland’s home record this season — Maryland did not lose a conference home game for the first time since the 2014-15 season. Maryland was 10-0 at home, in large part due to a fiery atmosphere that proved to be nightmarish for opposing teams.
“That’s pretty impressive for this group,” Willard said when reflecting on his team’s conference home record. “I just think it shows you how great of a program this is, how great of a fanbase it is. I think the fanbase really got behind this group.”
Comparing Maryland’s fan attendance to last season — when Maryland had its worst record this century — is night and day. Few thought the revival of Maryland would be this immediate, but with an NCAA Tournament appearance all but locked up and an opportunity to be a top seed in the Big Ten tournament, Maryland has found its swagger, and that starts with a rocking XFINITY Center that led to an undefeated conference home record.
Maryland has had remarkable success shutting down stars.
Bill Belichick is considered one of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport for a plethora of reasons, but a primary one is his ability to limit opponents’ biggest offensive threat.
It’s what great coaches do when game-planning against great players. Willard and his staff have been phenomenal game-planning against the other team’s best player all season. No, I’m not comparing Willard to Bill Belichick. Not at all. But rather noting that crafting successful game plans and having your players execute them leads to success. Few coaching staffs in the Big Ten have been as successful at limiting stars than Willard’s.
Let’s go all the way back to November when Maryland played Saint Louis at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip Off Classic at Mohegan Sun.
Maryland held Saint Louis’ star point guard Yuri Collins to 12 points on 3-for-11 shooting.
Maryland has had success stopping opposing guards and bigs this season, which is even more impressive given one of the concerns for the Terps entering the season was their lack of interior presence in a conference full of dominant bigs.
Despite what the box score might say in Maryland’s three home games against Michigan, Indiana and Purdue, Maryland limited Hunter Dickinson, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Zach Edey — which is a huge reason why Maryland came out with three wins.
Dickinson scored 19 on 7-for-11 shooting. Edey scored 18 on 8-for-16 shooting after scoring 24 the first time they played at Purdue. Trayce Jackson-Davis also scored 18.
Those numbers may seem impressive, but those guys are three of the best players in the country, so holding them below 20 was monumental. Maryland’s players deserve a ton of credit for executing the game plan implemented by the coaching staff that included timely doubles and forcing the ball out of their hands as much as possible.
Against Penn State on Feb. 11, Maryland held Jalen Pickett to 15 points. Pickett likes to play in the post but is also dynamic on the perimeter, which makes him such a difficult guard. Picket averages 18.8 points on the season.
On Sunday against Northwestern, Maryland’s focus was on the Wildcats’ leading scorer Boo Buie, who was averaging 18 points per game heading into Sunday. And once again, Maryland completely shut him down as Buie finished with four points on 1-for-9 shooting.
“We wanted to get the ball out of his hands early, make it hard for him to get it back, which I think we did,” Willard said about Maryland’s defensive game plan for Buie. “They run so many dribble-handoffs, we took away the dribble-handoffs. He’s so good at them. He’s so good at turning the corner going to his right. Without that in there, I thought that was a part of the reason he struggled.”
Whatever an opposing player’s strengths are, Maryland will find a way to exploit them. Shutting down stars is a big reason why Maryland sits in the position it does in late February.
Maryland moved into second place in the conference with two road games to go.
With two games left to go before postseason play begins, Maryland still has a lot to play for. Maryland is now in second place with a 11-7 record. Northwestern, Indiana and Michigan are all 11-7 too, but Maryland owns the tiebreaker over each of the three teams if it comes down to that.
Essentially, Maryland controls its own destiny. It would take a miracle — Purdue losing its last two games of the season against Wisconsin and Illinois and Maryland winning its last two against Ohio State and Penn State — for Maryland to clinch a share of the Big Ten regular-season title. But, if Maryland wins, regardless of other team’s records, the Terps would clinch the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament. That would give it a double-bye and an automatic trip to the quarterfinals.
Maryland looks completely different on the road than they do at home, so winning its final two games of the season on the road — where it is 1-7 — won’t be easy. The good news for Maryland is its first matchup is with Ohio State, who is having a forgettable season at 4-14 in the conference and has no chance of making the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland then closes out its season at Penn State, a place Maryland has historically struggled. The Nittany Lions are a desperate group still vying for an NCAA Tournament berth down the stretch of the season. A win over Maryland in the season finale would certainly bolster their resume.
If Maryland drops one of its final two games on the road, it likely will not stay the two seed. How far it drops in the standings and whether it still can secure a top-4 seed and a double-bye will come down to how the other teams toward the top of the conference perform.