After a missed chance at a road win against Indiana on Monday, Maryland basketball is back home and in need of a signature win. The Terps will get that chance against No. 6 Michigan State.
Perhaps the highest-profile home game of Maryland’s season tips off at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on CBS. The Spartans will be the first top-10 team to visit College Park since then-No. 3 Iowa exactly two years before Sunday. We’ll note here that Maryland won that game (although the Terps were No. 8 at the time and both teams limped to the finish that season).
Because this is the second meeting between the Terps and Spartans this season, let’s try a new preview format for this game. Here’s our preview for the original contest.
What happened last time
Uh...see...what had happened was.......Maryland was doing well for a little while, and then it stopped making shots and its bigs got in foul trouble and Michigan State shifted into a new, dominant, horrifying gear. The Spartans won by 30, with the entire margin coming from the last 25 minutes or so.
Michigan State’s frontcourt trio of Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson and Nick Ward went ballistic. Those three combined for 46 points on just 22 shots, with Jackson draining 5 of 6 threes. The Spartans also got scoring contributions from guards Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford and reserve forward Kenny Goins (not the former Maryland fullback).
Maryland, meanwhile, got 26 points from Anthony Cowan, 16 from Kevin Huerter and just 19 from everyone else. That won’t be a recipe for success if the Terps want to pull off an upset this time.
What’s happened since
Maryland has been consistently inconsistent since the teams first met up. The Terps have also lost to Ohio State and Michigan, plus Monday’s squandered opportunity at Indiana. But this has proven to be a different team at home; Maryland is 12-1 in College Park, with the only blemish a three-point defeat to then-unranked-but-now-worldbeating Purdue on Dec. 1. With Xfinity Center expecting its most raucous crowd since at least that night—and its first sellout of the season—Maryland seems poised to at least make a run at an upset.
Bruno Fernando sprained his ankle at Indiana and has been limited in practice this week, so his status remains the biggest question mark for Sunday’s game. Turgeon told reporters Saturday that he’ll be a “game-time decision,” but watching Fernando later run up and down the floor with big man transfer Schnider Herard makes it hard to believe he’ll actually sit out.
The Spartans, as it turned out, weren’t as invincible as it appeared on Jan. 4. They lost their next contest at Ohio State by 16, then suffered a home defeat the following weekend at the hands of Michigan. But Michigan State is still ranked No. 6 in the AP Poll and has won its last three games by double digits, including a 28-point drubbing of Indiana and Friday night’s 15-point victory over Wisconsin.
Of course, basketball is far and away the least of Michigan State’s worries right now.
Three things to watch
1. Can Bruno Fernando play and make an impact? If the freshman center is out, then Maryland’s chances of scoring an upset become microscopic. If he plays but is limited by his injury or foul trouble, then the Terps will have neither the size nor the depth to match up in the frontcourt. But if he’s fully ready to go and plays well, then there’s a real chance; he and the Xfinity Center crowd feed off each other’s energy.
2. Does Anthony Cowan bounce back? The Terps’ most consistent player this season went 2-of-12 in the second half at Indiana, growing frustrated with the lack of calls on his drives to the hoop and jacking up several unnecessary shots late in the game. Turgeon stressed the importance of his point guard regaining confidence, and was optimistic that the break between games would help. It’s easy to think Cowan has worn down due to his workload, but he refutes these notions, smiling and saying “I’m good” whenever he’s asked about it.
3. How much does Maryland get from its bench? Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley combined to nail six threes Monday, which helped give the Terps a chance in that game. But it didn’t help that Michal Cekovsky and Joshua Tomaic scored zero points between them. The Terps will need production from all across the board, but it’s not unreasonable to think they can pull it off.