Maryland men’s basketball has its best chance to pick up its first road conference win Saturday when it travels to play Minnesota at 9 p.m.
The Terps are on a three-game winning streak after sweeping a homestand featuring games against Wisconsin, Nebraska and Indiana. They have been outstanding at home — 6-0 in Big Ten games and 12-1 overall — but unable to replicate that away from the friendly confines of XFINITY Center — 0-5 in road Big Ten games. That has a chance to change this weekend, as Minnesota sits at the bottom of the conference standings and ranks as one of the worst power conference teams in the country.
Saturday’s game, which KenPom.com projects as a 69-60 win for Maryland, will air on Big Ten Network.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-14, 1-10 Big Ten)
Head coach Ben Johnson is in his second year as Minnesota’s head coach and is in the midst of attempting to completely rebuild the program. His first year looked early on like an overachievement, but the Gophers lost 16 of their last 20 games and fell back to Earth.
This year’s team looks plenty more like the end of last season than the beginning, as Minnesota only has one conference win so far, a road victory at Ohio State on Jan. 12. It has lost six straight games, alone in last place in the Big Ten by a two-game margin. Nebraska and Minnesota are the only two teams in the conference that KenPom ranks as sub-top-100 squads, and the Golden Gophers are hovering around dropping out of the top 200 (they rank No. 198 at the time of writing).
KenPom projects Minnesota to finish with two more wins by season’s end, but it also expects it to be an underdog in every remaining game — its highest remaining single-game win probability (33%) coming in the season finale at home against Wisconsin.
Players to know
Dawson Garcia, sophomore forward, 6-foot-11, No. 3 — Minnesota is the third stop in the career of Dawson Garcia, who earned All-Big East freshman team honors at Marquette in 2020-21 and appeared in 16 games (12 starts) with North Carolina during its run to the national title game last year. This season, he’s been his team’s most productive player, averaging 14.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. In Minnesota’s sole conference win over Ohio State, he scored 28 points. As Garcia goes, so do the Gophers.
Jamison Battle, junior forward, 6-foot-7, No. 10 — Maryland fans should be familiar with Battle, as he tied an XFINITY Center record with 39 points last year against the Terps, part of his 2021-22 season that earned him an All-Big Ten honorable mention. Prior to coming to play for the Gophers, Battle played two seasons at George Washington, averaging 13.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. This year, he’s scoring an average of 13.1 points per appearance, second on the team behind Garcia.
Ta’Lon Cooper, junior guard, 6-foot-4, No. 55 — Another transfer, Cooper played 95 games at Morehead State before coming to the Twin Cities. He’s turned into one of Minnesota’s best offensive weapons, the third and final double-digit-per-game scorer on the roster. He’s also by far its best distributor, averaging 5.7 assists per game.
Ball distribution. According to KenPom, Minnesota’s assist to field goals made percentage of 59.7% is the 20th-best in the nation. Cooper leads the way in that department, but the Gophers as a whole are adept at getting the ball around. They have eight players with at least 11 assists this season.
Turnovers. Unfortunately for Minnesota, its attempts to rack up assists end up with the ball in the other team’s hands at a high rate. It ranks last in the Big Ten with an average turnover margin of -2.29, averaging nearly 13 turnovers per game. Maryland likes to apply pressure and attempt to force mistakes from its opponents, so the Gophers will need to bring their A-game to avoid giving the Terps easy transition points.
Three things to watch
1. A prime opportunity. Maryland’s struggles on the road have been well-documented. Its only true road win came against an awful Louisville squad in November, however it has played better away from College Park of late. Saturday’s game provides the best chance the Terps will get to win a road conference game, and even though they haven’t gotten one yet, it would be a major disappointment to Willard and his team not to emerge victorious.
2. Free-throw shooting. The Terps have attacked their opponents in recent games and forced themselves to the free-throw line, shooting a combined 35 more free throws than their counterparts in their last three matchups. On the other hand, Minnesota is the nation’s third-worst free-throw shooting team in the nation at 59.9%. Maryland likely won’t get a friendly whistle on the road Saturday, but it could still have an opportunity to take advantage at the charity stripe.
3. Shot selection. Maryland has had its most offensive success when limiting its 3-point attempts and relying on the quartet of Jahmir Young, Donta Scott, Hakim Hart and Julian Reese to impose themselves in the paint, whether it be finishing or initiating offense there. However, Minnesota has had the Big Ten’s worst 3-point defense in conference play, per KenPom, so the opportunities will be there for the Terps to take long-range shots. Whether they choose to do so will be intriguing.