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Maryland basketball vs. Minnesota preview: Terps return home looking to snap losing streak

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The Terps hope to return to .500 in the Big Ten.

Illinois v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Maryland basketball was seconds away from earning its first road win over a ranked opponent under Mark Turgeon on Monday. The Terps led Michigan by a point and needed one stop.

As we know, they didn’t get the stop. Maryland lost by one and dropped to 3-4 in the Big Ten. All of those losses are to the four ranked teams in the conference.

The Terps are back home on Thursday, as Minnesota visits College Park at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1. This matchup was supposed to carry a lot more hype, but both teams have encountered serious roadblocks. While Maryland has been bombarded with injuries, the Golden Gophers are now without injured guard Amir Coffey and center Reggie Lynch, who’s been recommended for expulsion after being found “responsible” for sexual misconduct.

This is the only meeting between the squads this year; they split two games last year, with the road team winning each time. Maryland will need to reverse that trend if it wants to get back to .500 in Big Ten play.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (14-6, 3-4 B1G)

2016-17 record: 24-10, 11-7

Head coach Richard Pitino is the only member of his family coaching college basketball this season. He’s in his fifth year at Minnesota and has an 89-67 record. The Gophers captured an NIT championship in Pitino’s first season, and they reached the NCAA Tournament last year only to run into the Big Ten assassins at Middle Tennessee State in the first round.

Players to know

Jordan Murphy, junior, forward, 6’6/240, No. 3. Back when Minnesota was a top-15 team at the start of the season, Murphy garnered some hype as a conference player of the year candidate. Though he’s not the frontrunner now, he’s still averaging 18.1 points and 12.1 rebounds per game and adding over a block and a steal.

Nate Mason, senior, guard, 6’2/190, No. 2. The senior averages 15.7 points, 4.3 assists and 3.8 boards this season, and he scored 28 points in the Gophers’ last outing against Penn State. Mason actually shoots a higher percentage from three (.427) than from the field overall (.408) and just over half his shots are from beyond the arc, both of which are rare to see. He’ll be an interesting matchup for Anthony Cowan, who’s been Maryland’s most consistent player this year.

Dupree McBrayer, junior, guard, 6’5/190, No. 1. With Coffey out, McBrayer will have to shoulder more of the scoring load. He had 24 points on Monday and was Minnesota’s leading scorer in its win at Maryland last season. McBrayer doesn’t shoot as many threes as Mason does, but he does make 40.6 percent.

Strength

Limiting turnovers. Minnesota’s ball security is excellent, as it turns the ball over on just 15.7 percent of possessions, the 23rd-best mark in the nation. That’s 11.5 giveaways per game, which ranks 35th. The Gophers’ best ranks on KenPom are in the “interior defense” categories, but with Lynch gone, this is looking like Minnesota’s best attribute.

Weakness

Forcing turnovers. The Gophers are 290th in the country in defensive turnover percentage and 261st in steal percentage. With Maryland slowing down its pace and limiting turnovers lately, it seems unlikely giveaways are too much of a factor in this one,

Three things to watch

1. How is Maryland’s health? The Terps have played two straight games with Dion Wiley out and Bruno Fernando sick. They went just seven deep on Monday, and it’ll be tough to win consistently like that over the next few weeks. The season-ending injuries to Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender were already enough of a blow; Maryland needs to stay as healthy as possible from here.

2. Can Kevin Huerter have a more efficient outing? The sophomore has struggled in his last two games, but almost made up for everything with his go-ahead (not game-winning) three in the final seconds Monday. He shot 8-of-21 from the floor in the two road losses, so he’s hoping the return home will be a return to form.

3. Does Minnesota get scalding-hot from three? If so, Maryland is in trouble. If not, the Terps have a chance. Maryland’s opponents in its last three defeats are shooting 53 percent on three-pointers; Michigan, the least efficient of the bunch, made seven in a row at one point. The Gophers will need Mason and McBrayer to heat up like they did against Penn State if they want to continue this trend.

Predictions

KenPom: Maryland wins, 79-72

Me: Maryland wins, 73-67