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Maryland men’s basketball vs. Northwestern preview

The Terps welcome the Wildcats for their first game at the Xfinity Center in 15 days.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

After its roughest week of the season, Maryland men’s basketball returns to the Xfinity Center Tuesday to take on Northwestern.

It will be Maryland’s first time playing in College Park in 15 days, having beaten Ohio State in Columbus before falling to Michigan State at the Breslin Center and Illinois in New York in that span. Head coach Mark Turgeon said the loss to the Spartans was the first time the Terps truly looked young, while Maryland committed an unacceptable 21 turnovers in the loss to the Illini.

Northwestern is struggling again, despite being led by a trio of seniors. The Wildcats have done relatively better of late, going 3-4 since the new year. However, their wins have come against Indiana, Rutgers and Illinois, none of which rank higher than ninth in the Big Ten. Last time out, Northwestern was on the wrong end of a 16-point loss to Wisconsin. The Wildcats recently decided to shut down senior Jordan Ash for the season, having never fully recovered from a knee injury that held him out the last seven games of 2018.

Maryland holds a 7-2 all-time advantage over the Wildcats and have gone 6-1 in the series since joining the conference, the only loss coming in the opening round of the 2017 Big Ten tournament. The Terps will look to make it three straight wins since then Tuesday night, and the game will tip off at 7 p.m. ET on FS1.

Northwestern Wildcats (12-8, 3-6 Big Ten)

2017-18: 15-17, 6-12

Head coach Chris Collins had a setback after taking Northwestern to the first NCAA Tournament in program history in 2016-17. Things haven’t started trending back upwards either in year six at the helm. Collins has just two winning seasons under his belt, though he’s above .500 and sports a 100-85 record overall.

Players to know

Vic Law, senior, forward, 6’7/200, No. 4. A key member of the tournament team, Law has taken over the top scoring duties with Scottie Lindsey graduated. Law is averaging 15.8 points per game and is second on the team with 6.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. His three-point accuracy is down this season, dropping from 38.3 percent to 33.7 percent.

Dererk Pardon, senior, center, 6’8/235, No. 5. Pardon is averaging a team-high 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. He’s also upped his scoring, as he’s done each of his seasons, climbing to 13.9 points per game this year. He’s tested his range this season, taking a career-high 14 threes so far, but has hit just two from distance. He’ll have his hands full with Bruno Fernando.

Ryan Taylor, senior, guard, 6’5/195, No. 14. Taylor was one of the most sought-after grad transfers on the market last offseason, choosing the Wildcats and slotting immediately in the rotation. His scoring and three-point shooting is down a bit from his final season at Evansville, but that’s to be expected with the bump up in competition. He’s third on the team with 12 points per game (down from 21.3 at Evansville) and shooting 35 percent from deep (from 42.4 percent).

Strengths

Perimeter defense. Despite their deficiencies, the Wildcats have excelled at making their opponents’ lives hard on the perimeter. Northwestern is limiting opponents to just 28.8 percent from three, which is 12th in the nation. That number has stayed steady in conference play, as the Wildcats are holding teams to just 29 percent, second only to Michigan State.

Weaknesses

Scoring. The Wildcats average just 61.3 points per game in conference play and are shooting just 39.3 percent from the field over their nine Big Ten games; both rank second-to-last in the conference. Northwestern has struggled heavily inside the arc as well, shooting just 43 percent on two-pointers and ranking dead last in the conference.

Three things to watch

1. How does Maryland bounce back? Maryland entered last week on a seven-game win streak and earned the No. 13 ranking before dropping two straight by double figures. Michigan State was its first loss by over five points, and the Terps let the Illinois game turn into the second over the last four minutes. Maryland’s heading into the teeth of its conference schedule, and coming out strong will be crucial to building momentum.

2. Does Anthony Cowan get going early? Anthony Cowan Jr. was held to just seven points against Michigan State then added 18 against Illinois, but the latter’s box-and-1 defense was able to keep the guard out of flow. Keying in on the junior is a tactic that could be replicated, but Cowan was already in the midst of a season of slow starts. Maryland’s offense runs best when he’s in a groove, and would be best served if that happens earlier rather than later.

3. How long does Maryland go big? After being stretched around the perimeter by Illinois, Mark Turgeon went small for much of the second half against Illinois. It didn’t produce results, and Jalen Smith was held to just 11 second-half minutes. Northwestern just has two players above 6’9 play over nine minutes a game, so Maryland should have the advantage on the interior. Whether the Terps are able to exploit it is a different question.

Predictions

KenPom: Maryland 71, Northwestern 63

Me: Maryland 72, Northwestern 60