Maryland men's basketball dives back into conference play Wednesday for its first test of 2019. No. 24 Nebraska will come to the Xfinity Center to christen the new year with a 6:30 p.m. ET matchup with the Terps.
The Terps closed 2018 on a positive note, beating Radford to get to their 10th win of the year. Jalen Smith missed the game with a stomach bug, but Ricky Lindo stepped up in his absence and chipped in eight points and 10 boards. Meanwhile, Bruno Fernando picked up his fifth double-double of the year, and is averaging 14.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game this season.
Maryland is 1-1 in Big Ten play so far, beating Penn State at home before falling to Purdue by two on the road. These two teams have faced off six times, and five of the matchups have been decided by five points are less. Maryland’s dropped the last two games of the series and will try to keep it from hitting three straight.
Maryland’s rotation should look different with Big Ten play resuming.
Head coach Mark Turgeon said Tuesday that Smith is expected to return and be nearly 100 percent tomorrow. Turgeon also said he’s committed to playing two bigs for the entirety of conference play. That means more Lindo and Ivan Bender in the rotation. Lindo had the more noticeable impact against Radford, but Bender opens up the offense when he’s on the floor. He chipped in two points, three rebounds and two assists in the win against the Highlanders and is Maryland’s best facilitating big man.
Fernando has also gotten more adept at handling the double teams that come his way, and locating the open man. That development on his end allows Turgeon to commit to the larger lineups, and he’s also decided to give Fernando more freedom to fire jumpers as well.
“Instead of just having him on that right block all game, we’ve moved him away from the basket so he’s inside-out and I think that’s really helped him,” Turgeon told reporters on Tuesday’s conference call. “The offense that we run, we try to recruit big guys that can pass a little bit and Bruno’s just gotten better and better at recognizing situations and reading things. It’s been fun to see. It’s been fun to be a part of it and watch his growth.”
Nebraska is off to a solid start after missing the postseason last year.
The Cornhuskers missed the Big Dance and played in the NIT last season, but Nebraska head coach Tim Miles has his squad firing on nearly all cylinders. The team has four double-digit scorers, led by a pair of former transfers in seniors James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland Jr. with 19.6 and 14.5 points per game, respectively.
Nebraska’s two losses are a neutral-site beatdown at the hands of No. 11 Texas Tech and a seven-point loss on the road to Minnesota. Outside of that, the Cornhuskers have been hard to stop and have excelled at getting stops. Nebraska is ranked the No. 14 most efficient offense, per KenPom, and has held opponents’ effective field goal percentage to a measly 41.7 percent, No. 4 in the nation.
Nebraska has hopped in and out of the top 25 this season. The team its debut at No. 24 on Dec. 3, dropped out after a Dec. 5 loss to Minnesota, and reemerged at No. 25 on Dec. 17 before dropping out again without losing a game. Then Miles’ squad ended the year ranked No. 24, after a fresh poll dropped on New Year’s Eve.
Maryland: 10-3, 1-1 Big Ten
Nebraska: 11-2, 1-1 Big Ten
All-time series: Maryland leads 4-2
Odds: Nebraska is favored by 1.5 points
How to watch and listen
Wednesday, Jan. 2, 6:30 p.m. (ET), Xfinity Center, College Park
TV: Big Ten Network — Kevin Kugler (Play-by-Play), Seth Davis (Analyst)
Radio: 105.7 FM (Balt.), 980 AM (DC), SiriusXM 964, TuneIn Radio App (Johnny Holliday, Chris Knoche, Walt Williams); WMUC Sports (Jarred Belman, Connor Newcomb)
KenPom: Maryland 71, Nebraska 70
Me: Nebraska 72, Maryland 68