Maryland men’s basketball will play its final regular season game on Saturday when Michigan comes to College Park. Though the Terps can’t move up or down in the Big Ten standings with a win, they still have a chance to avenge one of its closest losses of the season.
At least one thing has changed about the Wolverines since the first meeting: its ranking. Now riding a four-game winning streak, Michigan (23-7, 12-5 B1G) used the last 10 games to return to the top 25 and move all the way up to No. 17 in the polls. The Wolverines hit the road after celebrating their own senior day on Tuesday with a win over Penn State.
Maryland (19-11, 8-9) enters the finale on a two-game winning streak and is looking to keep up momentum before the conference tournament. It will also be senior day for three Terps and a whiteout for the noon tip on ESPN.
What happened last time
So ......... Maryland almost won, then it didn’t.
After seeing a 10-point halftime lead evaporate in under three minutes, Maryland battled in a back-and-forth second half. The Terps trailed 57-49 at the under-8 media break before riding a previously quiet Kevin Huerter’s hot hand to a 67-66 lead with six seconds left. However, Maryland failed to cover the inbounds effectively and gave up a foul that sealed the game.
While the inbounds play literally cost Maryland the game, it wasn’t why it lost. Maryland only allowed two players to hit double figures—Moritz Wagner had 18 points and 11 rebounds and Jordan Poole came off the bench for 11 points—but allowed five threes on five straight possessions at one point in the second half. While all that will be remembered is the final play, Maryland was very much not in control of the final 20 minutes.
What’s happened since
Maryland finally picked up a road win on Monday when it completed the sweep of Northwestern with a 71-64 win. It was the Terps’ first road win in eight tries this calendar year; it was also their last of the season.
In all, the Terps have split the 10 games they’ve played since the last matchup. However, Maryland has improved at finishing out games since the calendar flipped months. The Terps are 4-2 in February and have locked themselves into the No. 8 seed of the Big Ten Tournament with a first-round matchup against Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Michigan is 7-3 since the first matchup, with its only losses to Nebraska, Northwestern and then-No. 3 Purdue. However, outside of beating then-No. 8 Ohio State and its latest win over the Nittany Lions, all of Michigan’s wins have been against teams sub-.500 in league play.
Three things to watch
1. How does Maryland close out the season? The Terps nearly beat Michigan once, and have since improved at playing hard for entire games. Maryland is 15-2 at home, and with the extra motivation of a rematch and senior day, expect intensity from the team as they aim to finish .500 in conference play.
2. Can the Terps deny the Wolverines a double bye? While Maryland’s seeding and opponent are now final, Michigan could still earn the a double bye in next week’s conference tournament with a win. Right now it holds the No. 4 seed, but if Maryland wins on Saturday and Nebraska beats Penn State on Sunday, Nebraska would finish 13-5 in conference with Michigan at 12-6 and Michigan would be a No. 5 seed and playing its first game on March 1 right after the Terps.
3. How do the seniors do in their last game at Xfinity? It will be the last time Terps fans will see seniors Jared Nickens and Michal Cekovsky, as well as grad transfer Sean Obi, at home. Nickens enters his final home game ranked No. 8 in program history with 178 threes made in 134 games, and would need four to tie and five to pass Steve Blake. Cekovsky has been injured often in his four years in College Park, but he finally turned a corner health-wise this season and has played in 26 of 30 games. Meanwhile, Obi has been used sparingly this season but has turned in a couple strong performances and even had his name chanted by the only sellout crowd of the season.