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Big Ten Tournament second-round preview: No. 6-seed Maryland men’s basketball vs. No. 14-seed Minnesota

The Terps begin postseason play on Thursday.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland men’s basketball begins its postseason campaign Thursday against Minnesota in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Terps are the No. 6 seed in the field; Minnesota is the No. 14 and last seed and had to beat Nebraska on Wednesday to advance past the first round.

Game information

Thursday, March 9, approximately 9 p.m. ET, United Center, Chicago, Illinois

TV: Big Ten Network

Streaming: FOX Sports

How did they get here?

No. 6-seed Maryland Terrapins (20-11, 11-9 Big Ten)

Maryland entered the season with tempered expectations after its first losing season in nearly 30 years. The team was under new leadership, with Kevin Willard taking the reins as the head coach.

Maryland’s resume is quite peculiar. It was dominant at home — 16-1, to be exact, with no conference losses — but vastly struggled away from home. It fared well in a small sample size on neutral courts but went just 2-9 in true road games, its only two wins coming at Louisville and Minnesota — two of the worst power conference teams in the nation.

Despite that, Maryland had a prime opportunity to secure a top-four finish in the conference and earn a double-bye in the league tournament, but fell to Penn State at the buzzer in the regular-season finale. The Terps would’ve been the second seed in the tournament had they bested the Nittany Lions, but they’ll settle for the sixth seed — still above preseason expectations.

Graduate guard Jahmir Young had a case to be a first-team all-conference selection, but he was named to the second team instead. Sophomore forward Julian Reese made huge strides this season and earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention alongside seniors Hakim Hart and Donta Scott, who will need to show out should the Terps want to make a deep postseason run.

No. 14-seed Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-21, 2-17 Big Ten)

Minnesota was the worst team in the Big Ten all year. Little was expected from the Golden Gophers heading into the season, but somehow they managed to fall below expectations. They were by far the worst team in the Big Ten, only defeating Ohio State and Rutgers. That Rutgers win was a miraculous 19-point comeback that may end up costing the Scarlet Knights a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

But even though Minnesota appeared to be a shoo-in to drop its first game of the Big Ten Tournament, it rallied and defeated 11th-seeded Nebraska, 78-75, to keep its season alive. Five Golden Gophers scored in double figures as Ben Johnson’s squad showed resilience with seemingly little reason for motivation.

What happened last time

Maryland and Minnesota faced off twice this season, and neither game was particularly close.

The first, played on Feb. 4, was a rout, as the Terps completely dismantled the Gophers to the tune of a 35-point road victory. That win was Maryland’s second-largest margin of victory in a conference road game in program history and its first 30-point conference win since 2016.

The second matchup wasn’t quite as lopsided, but a convincing 18-point Maryland win nonetheless.

Even though the Golden Gophers have a Big Ten Tournament win under their belts, a loss to Minnesota would be devastating for Maryland considering the relative team strengths and past results.

Three things to know

1. Scott and Hart must step up. Perhaps Maryland can survive Minnesota if Donta Scott and Hakim Hart don’t bring their A-game, but its season won’t last much longer if that’s the case. The duo combined for just four points in the team’s loss to Penn State, drawing the ire of many Terps fans. Both Scott and Hart are vital to Maryland’s success, and if they can’t get going it’s a bad omen for its chances moving forward.

2. Neutral site. The most talked-about aspect of the Terps’ season has been their road struggles, but technically speaking they won’t be playing any more road games — only neutral-site ones. Maryland went 2-1 in neutral site games in the regular season, blowing out Miami and Saint Louis before falling by three to Tennessee. Thursday should provide a true neutral-court environment that can present itself as a litmus test for a Maryland team needing a confidence-building win away from College Park.

3. The opening minutes. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that doesn’t consider Maryland a better team than Minnesota, and that person would be incorrect. But in a single-elimination format, things can get wonky. Having to play an extra game hurts Minnesota in the long run, but it could give it a slight edge early on Thursday as Maryland gets its legs under itself after a four-day layoff.

The road ahead

The winner of Thursday night’s game will face third-seeded Indiana in Friday’s quarterfinal round. That game will start at approximately 9 p.m. ET.

Both teams played Indiana just once in the regular season. Maryland defeated Indiana at home and Nebraska lost to the Hoosiers on the road.