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Maryland men’s basketball vs. Minnesota preview

The Terps head back on the road for another conference test on Tuesday.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland men’s basketball picks up conference play Tuesday night with the second of back-to-back road games. The Terps will put a three-game winning streak on the line when they travel to face Minnesota.

Maryland will enter Williams Arena after running Rutgers out of its own gym in a game that the 77-63 final score doesn’t do justice. That pushed Maryland’s record to 12-3 overall and 3-1 in Big Ten play, while securing the Terps’ fifth win in six outings. Jalen Smith led the way in the win, after nailing the game-winner against No. 25 Nebraska earlier last week.

The Gophers have won six straight games, including two in conference play, and are coming off a Jan. 3 road win over No. 22 Wisconsin. Four players are averaging double figures for Minnesota, with another essentially there (9.9 points per game), led by junior Amir Coffey. After missing much of last season, Coffey has returned and taken over starting point guard duties.

The Terps are 7-2 against Minnesota all-time, with Maryland holding a 3-2 edge in the series since joining the Big Ten. This one will tip off at Tuesday night at 7 p.m. ET on FS1.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (12-2, 2-1 Big Ten)

2017-18 record: 15-17, 4-14

Head coach Richard Pitino appears to have his squad back on track after the team followed up its first NCAA Tournament berth under Pitino with a sub-.500 record. Pitino and company have nearly reached their win total from last season, and only need three wins to top their conference win total.

Players to know

Jordan Murphy, senior, forward, 6’7/250, No. 3. The senior has been an absolute monster on the boards, leading the conference in rebounds (offensive, defensive and total) and rebounds per game with 12.5 boards per night. He’s also second on the team with 14.9 points and 1.1 blocks per game. He recently became the all-time leading rebounder in program history.

Amir Coffey, junior, guard, 6’8/210, No. 5. After earning a conference all-freshman team nod, Coffey missed most of Big Ten play last season with a shoulder injury. Now handling point duties, the junior is averaging a career-high 15.5 points, along with 3.1 assists, 3.1 boards and 1.1 steals per game.

Daniel Oturu, freshman, center, 6’10/225, No. 25. The rookie big has made an immediate impact for the Gophers. Through 14 games, he’s first on the team in blocks, second in rebounds and fourth in scoring with averages of 1.9 blocks, 7.9 rebounds and 10.3 points a night. His 1.9 blocks per game ranks also ranks third in the Big Ten, two spots behind Bruno Fernando’s 2.4 per night.

Strength

Getting to the foul line. Minnesota has the fifth-highest free-throw rate in the nation, per KenPom, but hasn’t been amazing once at the line. The Gophers have taken the 14th-most free throws in the nation, and have hit the 21st-most, but are converting at just a 67.5 percent rate. Essentially, while they excel at getting to the charity stripe, the Gophers aren’t really making teams pay.

Weakness

Three-point shooting. The Gophers rank second-to-last in the conference and 295th overall in three point shooting, and haven’t launched a lot of them either. Minnesota is converting triples at just a 25.7 percent clip in three conference games, and 31.3 percent rate overall. That’s on the 339th-most (of 353) attempt s from deep.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland carry over momentum from the Rutgers game? Maryland has had an issue with starting slow this season, and it was a problem against Rutgers early on. The Terps were able to string things together and catch fire against the Scarlet Knights, but this is a Minnesota team with more talent. The Terps will need to avoid another cold start on the road.

2. Does Jalen Smith stay hot? The freshman has been on a roll, scoring the last seven points in Maryland’s win over Nebraska and leading the team with 16 points in the win over Rutgers. Anthony Cowan Jr. and Bruno Fernando have continued to be consistent, but the Terps are a dangerous team with all three clicking. Whether he deals with Murphy or Oturu for most of the game, it’s worth keeping an eye on how he handles their size.

3. How does the bench do? After the bench scored a season-high 21 points in the win over the Scarlet Knights, the Terps will hope the unit brings the confidence with them to Minnesota. Serrel Smith Jr. is coming off an 11 point-performance, while Ricky Lindo, Aaron Wiggins and Ivan Bender all chipped in with solid performances. Bender is the only player who played extended minutes and didn’t score against Rutgers.

Predictions

KenPom: Minnesota 72, Maryland 71

Me: Maryland 74, Minnesota 70