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Maryland men’s basketball vs. Northwestern preview

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The Terps return home to host the Wildcats on ESPN2.

Michigan v Northwestern'n'n Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Maryland men’s basketball will be back in the Xfinity Center on Saturday when Northwestern comes to College Park for the first of two February meetings.

The Terps are coming off their sixth straight road loss, after losing. 74-70, on Feb. 7. It was another game without senior Michal Cekovsky, who’s still day-to-day with a bruised heel. The senior center was missed, as Maryland ran a double-digit deficit on points in the paint and also allowed 13 extra chance points. Maryland’s entering the final stretch of its season, with three of its final five games at home, and have a chance to get the ball rolling back in the right direction.

First up is a Northwestern team that struggled early in conference play, but has won four of its last five games and two in a row. The last time these two met, the Wildcats bounced the Terps from the Big Ten Tournament. This season Northwestern has four upperclassmen averaging double figures, and have seemed to turn the corner recently.

This one will get underway at noon Saturday and is airing on ESPN2.

Northwestern Wildcats (15-10, 6-6 B1G)

2016-17 record: 24-12, 10-8

Head coach Chris Collins led the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history last season, but—despite an experienced crop of players—isn’t poised to repeat the feat. It’s his fifth season as Northwestern’s head coach, after spending the prior 15 seasons as an assistant at the college level.

Players to know

Scottie Lindsey, senior, guard, 6’5/210, No. 20. The senior guard is having a consistent final season with the Wildcats, leading the team in scoring with 14.4 points a game along with 3.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists a game. Lindsey’s also been ultra efficient from the free throw line, shooting 92.3 percent in conference play, good for third in the league.

Bryant McIntosh, senior, guard, 6’3/200, No. 30. McIntosh’s scoring is down a tick from last season, but he’s still Northwestern’s second leading scorer and top assist man. He’s averaged 13 points and 5.4 assists a game while grabbing 2.6 rebounds a night.

Vic Law, junior, forward, 6’7/200, No. 4. Law is well-rounded at the forward position and has averaged a stat line of 12.2 points, six rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals a game. He’s averaging a nearly identical line as his last season, while slightly increasing his field goal percentage from 40.9 percent in 2016-17 to 42.7 percent this season.

Dererk Pardon, junior, center, 6’8/235, No. 5. Despite being undersized as a center, Pardon leads the Wildcats in rebounds and blocks per game, while also being the fourth scoring option. He’s given Northwestern 11.2 points, 6.7 boards and 1.9 blocks a night.

Strengths

Free Throws. Despite being dead last in the Big Ten in both free throws made and attempted, the Wildcats have shot a solid percentage when they do get to the line. Northwestern is shooting 75.5 percent from the charity stripe, just a tick higher than Maryland’s 75 percent clip from the line.

Weaknesses

Shooting the ball. Despite its efficiency from the charity stripe, Northwestern has been inefficient shooting the ball. The Wildcats are near the bottom of the conference in both field goal and three point percentage, and, as a result, points, ranking 13th, 10th and 12th respectively. The Wildcats have shot 40.9 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from beyond the arc, averaging 64 points against Big Ten opponents.

Three things to watch

1. Will Michal Cekovsky return? After managing to stay healthy for most of the season—something that’s eluded him his entire college career—the senior center landed wrong on his surgically repaired ankle in practice and has missed the last three games under a “day-to-day” designation. With just five games left, it’s time to wonder whether Cekovsky will be able to return before season’s end.

2. How does Maryland finish out the season? With just five games left, the end of the regular season is just around the corner. After the Penn State loss, it’s probable that Maryland’s only shot at playing in March is probably winning four games in four days at the Big Ten Tournament, which is never easy or likely. How the team finishes the season, with potentially nothing but pride to play for, will be an important look into the team’s mentality.

3. Can Maryland play smart for 40 minutes? The Terps have had stretches in a lot of close games where they look like they’ve put it together. However, the Terps have still dropped a series of close ones on the road. If Maryland is going to show its improvement, it’ll have to close out a couple of these games down the stretch.

“No more reinventing,” head coach Mark Turgeon said at media availability on Friday. “We’re doing pretty well offensively and that’s where we really had to reinvent ourselves. We doing a lot of different things defensively, just trying to stay out of foul trouble, hope for some bad matchups. ... I think we’re done reinventing ourselves and just trying to get better at what we do.”

Predictions

KenPom: Maryland wins, 70-64

Me: Maryland wins, 72-63