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Maryland basketball vs. Wisconsin Big Ten tournament preview

The Terps get their conference tournament run started.

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

Maryland men’s basketball kicks off its Big Ten tournament run in a Thursday 8/9 matchup with Wisconsin. The Terps won by four when the Badgers came to College Park, but the postseason recognizes no previous records. It’s an all-new ballgame.

Maryland (19-12, 8-10 B1G) ended its regular season on a sour note, getting run out of its own gym on Senior Day by Michigan. However, the Terps say they’re not feeling any pressure heading into the tournament and are hoping they can replicate Michigan’s run through last year’s tournament as the No. 8 seed. Anthony Cowan and Bruno Fernando brought home Big Ten All-Defensive and All-Freshman honors, respectively, with Cowan also being named to the conference’s third team.

On the other side, Wisconsin (14-17, 7-11) comes in having won four of its last six, with center Ethan Happ earning an All-Big Ten first team nod from the media and a second team nod from the coaches. Badgers guard Brad Davison also joined Fernando on the freshman team.

The Terps have to hope their conference tournament run lasts longer than last year’s, when they went one-and-done with a loss to Northwestern. Maryland gets its run under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden on Thursday at noon on BTN.

What happened last time

After entering their first matchup on a three-game losing streak, Maryland held off a late Wisconsin surge to pick up a five-point win on Super Bowl Sunday. (Here’s the preview from last time.)

The Terps started slow before ending the first half on a run that included the last 11 points heading into the locker room. Maryland then saw a 10-point halftime lead turn into a tie at 60 in the last couple minutes. Cowan and all-conference honorable mention Kevin Huerter combined for 40 points, and Huerter pushed Maryland ahead with two buckets down the stretch.

Happ was quiet in the first half, but would finish with 18 points and nine rebounds. It was an all-around sloppy game that saw both teams end up in the double bonus by the under-8 timeout. Maryland was able to finish out the win, but won’t be able to afford another sloppy effort on Thursday.

What’s happened since

Maryland’s win over Wisconsin kicked off a solid February for the Terps. Though the season ended on a sour note, Maryland went 4-3 in the month and showed improvement down the stretch, winning two straight before the Michigan debacle.

Wisconsin was the first opponent to throw a double team at Fernando, and while he finished that matchup with just six points, he’s grown since. The 6’10 forward has learned to more effectively score and pass out of the double team, contributing to the freshman nod. Senior Michal Cekovsky has also returned from injury since that game and had a mixed bag of contributions down the stretch.

For Wisconsin, the loss to Maryland was the last in a five-game slide. The Badgers sport the same February record as the Terps, and won four of their final six including a win over No. 8 Purdue. However, they also ended the season with a loss, dropping by five to Michigan State.

What’s next if Maryland wins?

Maryland’s reward for beating Wisconsin would be a third matchup with No. 2 Michigan State in the quarterfinals. Fun.

The Terps were blown out by Michigan State on the road in their first matchup, and then watched a 13-point lead at home turn into a six-point loss. Maryland would be playing with house money at this point and there’s no reason to believe it wouldn’t give its all. However, that’s a rough road to the semifinals, and a tournament crown is likely the Terps’ only shot at the NCAAs.

What happens if Maryland loses?

Just have to wait for a NIT bid, pretty much. Maryland doesn’t have an NCAA Tournament resume, as its best win is a non-conference home victory over Butler, who’s currently 19-10. With a 2-8 road record and no wins over top-25 teams, a one-and-done showing could have Maryland hoping it even gets a home seed in the National Invitational.