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Maryland basketball vs. Rutgers preview

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The Terps return home for the second-to-last time this season.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland men’s basketball welcomes Rutgers to the Xfinity Center on Saturday night. It’s the Terps’ penultimate home game of the year, as they continue their march to the end of the regular season.

The Terps are coming off their seventh straight road loss, after falling by four to Nebraska on Tuesday. Maryland (17-11, 6-9 Big Ten) will need to win out just to finish .500 in league play this year and gather some needed momentum before the conference tournament. Former Terps Melo Trimble and Jake Layman will be in attendance for this one, as the NBA is on break for All-Star Weekend.

Rutgers is once again near the bottom of the conference, ranking 11th in the league this season. The Scarlet Knights enter this one after snapping a seven-game losing streak in their last contest, beating Northwestern in overtime on Tuesday.

The Terps have yet to lose to Rutgers since both teams joined the Big Ten in 2014, sweeping all five matchups. Maryland will look to make it six straight against the Scarlet Knights when this one tips Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET on BTN.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (13-15, 3-12 B1G)

2016-17 record: 15-18, 3-15

Head coach Steve Pikiell is in his second year in Piscataway and has already matched his conference win total from a year ago. Pikiell got the job after winning America East Coach of the Year for his sixth postseason appearance in seven seasons at Stony Brook. Pikiell has a reputation for building programs up, and is hoping to do the same with the Scarlet Knights.

Players to know

Corey Sanders, junior, guard, 6’2/176, No. 3. Described as a “crazy athlete” who can “get his shot anytime he wants” by Maryland’s Kevin Huerter on Friday, the 6’2 junior leads Rutgers in scoring and assists with 14.5 points and 3.2 assists a game. He’s also the third-best rebounder with 4.5 boards a night.

Deshawn Freeman, senior, forward, 6’7/220, No. 33. The Scarlet Knights’ senior leader is also the leader on the boards, grabbing a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game. Freeman is also the team’s top thief and shot blocker, averaging 1.5 steals and 0.9 blocks a contest, while giving Rutgers 11.4 points a game as well.

Geo Baker, freshman, guard, 6’4/180, No. 0. The freshman has stepped in and become the Scarlet Knights’ third scoring option, and is a capable distributor as well. He’s averaged 11 points and 2.9 assists a night, while also pulling down 2.3 boards per game. Baker’s .355 three-point shooting clip is also the highest of any Rutgers player that takes at least two a game.

Strengths

Offensive rebounding. Rutgers is the No. 3 offensive rebounding team in the Big Ten, pulling down 33.6 percent of its missed shots. The Terps have struggled recently keeping teams off the offensive boards, and Rutgers pulls in 12 per game, the highest total in the conference.

Weakness

Shooting the ball. The Scarlet Knights rank 350th of 351 Division 1 basketball teams in effective field goal percentage—a stat that takes into account three-pointers being worth more than two—per KenPom. Despite taking the most two-point attempts in the country, Rutgers ranks 346th with a .434 two-point percentage and it ranks 347th with a .294 three-point clip. In all, Rutgers has shot just sub-40 percent on the year, shooting 39.9 percent from the field.

Three things to watch

1. Does Anthony Cowan bounce back? Cowan was limited to just seven points, all in the first half, against Nebraska and looked a little fatigued late in the game. He’d have seven assists and five rebounds in the effort, but Maryland will need him to resume his role as primary scorer and lead it down the final stretch.

2. Who steps up as Maryland’s third scorer? With Cowan and Huerter having off games against Nebraska, Bruno Fernando stepped up to the tune of 21 points, with nine rebounds and five assists. Cowan and Huerter are typically options one and two, but game-to-game, that third option usually changes.

“You’re always looking for a third scorer,” head coach Mark Turgeon said Friday afternoon. “It may be Dion [Wiley], it could be Jared Nickens, it could be [Fernando], it could be [Michal Cekovsky]. I’d like for it to be all of them across the board, then we’d be a really good team.”

3. Can the Terps keep the Scarlet Knights off the offensive boards? With Maryland’s recent rebounding struggles, Rutgers’ offensive rebounding prowess gave Turgeon pause at availability on Friday afternoon.

“They’re going to challenge us,” Turgeon said. “It’s just their length and their commitment to defense that makes them special. But I’m also worried about keeping them off the boards. That’s going to be a big part of the game.”

Predictions

Kenpom: Maryland wins, 70-58

Me: Maryland wins, 75-60