Maryland basketball continues its critical February stretch run with a visit to Penn State at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday on BTN.
After beating Wisconsin in a close contest Sunday, Maryland sits at 5-7 in the Big Ten and 16-9 overall. The Terps are still on Joe Lunardi’s bubble as the eighth team out (right behind St. Bonaventure and Syracuse), so the final six games of the regular season will each carry that much more weight. Maryland is favored in four of those six, per KenPom, with the toughest tests coming in this outing and next week at Nebraska.
Maryland’s poor performance on the road—the Terps are 1-6 in true away games—is a huge reason it’s in poor position for a Tournament spot. But a win Wednesday would be a significant step in the right direction.
What happened last time
Maryland took down Penn State by six points in January, starting the new year victorious in its return to Big Ten play. Thanks to Bruno Fernando’s 17 points and 11 rebounds, the Terps overcame a slow first half to come away with a 75-69 win.
The last time these teams met in State College, the Nittany Lions upset a Maryland team that entered the game 20-3 and coming off a nail-biting loss to Purdue. A Penn State victory Wednesday wouldn’t be nearly as much of an upset, but it would certainly be more damaging to Maryland’s outlook going forward.
What’s happened since
Maryland had a rough January, dropping six of its last eight games in the month and going 0-5 on the road. The Terps’ Big Ten schedule was frontloaded with difficult opponents—they’ve already played the conference’s four ranked teams six times and have lost all six—and they’re still two games under .500 in league play. Injuries haven’t helped, but they’ve blown a couple chances too many.
Penn State enters Wednesday’s game 6-6 in the Big Ten and 16-9 overall. The Nittany Lions have been no stranger to close games, knocking off then-No. 13 Ohio State at the buzzer and splitting overtime duels with Nebraska and Minnesota. Like Maryland, they’ll need a late run to make the Tournament, but a December home loss to Rider puts them in perhaps a bigger hole.
Three things to watch
1. Does Michal Cekovsky miraculously come back? The fragile center’s pleasantly healthy senior season was derailed by a left heel injury suffered last week. He didn’t travel with the Terps to Purdue and was on the bench in a walking boot during Sunday’s win. Turgeon lists Cekovsky as day-to-day and says there’s no structural damage in the Slovakian’s heel, but there’s still no timetable for his return. If he’s out again, Maryland will have to turn back to the Fernando/Sean Obi/Joshua Tomaic center rotation.
2. What happens with the foul situation? One of the primary storylines in the first matchup was the free throw disparity, as Maryland took 34 foul shots and Penn State took four. The Nittany Lions didn’t make much of a point to feed the ball down low, and as a result didn’t draw many fouls. Maryland will have trouble duplicating those results if Cekovsky’s out, so the onus will be back on the bigs to stay out of foul trouble.
3. Can the Terps hold Tony Carr in check again? Penn State’s offensive leader has scored at least 28 points in four of his last eight games, topping out at 33 against Minnesota. But he’s been inefficient at times, and went 6-for-23 for 16 points in College Park on Jan. 2. If the Terps can keep him quiet, it’ll help their chances immensely.