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Maryland basketball rides its hot streak into a pivotal Big Ten stretch

This is the Maryland Minute, a short story followed by a roundup of Terps-related news.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland basketball won its third straight Big Ten game to start 2019 on Tuesday night, pulling away from Minnesota for an 82-67 victory. This game, like the home win over Nebraska on Jan. 2, was a toss-up on paper and played out like one for most of the night. But the Terps made the adjustments, hit the shots and came out on top.

Now it’s time to do that all over again for the next couple months.

The Big Ten is loaded with squads right around Maryland’s caliber this season. Nine teams have been ranked at some point, and 10 received AP votes this week. After No. 2 Michigan and No. 6 Michigan State, the gap between the third- and 10th-best team in the league is as narrow as one could imagine. As a result, the majority of Maryland’s remaining games look as evenly matched as this one.

KenPom has the Terps going 8-7 the rest of the way for a 12-8 conference record, but it’s easy to see that mark going in one extreme or the other. Ten of Maryland’s final 15 games have a projected margin within five points, and all 15 are in single digits. Maryland moved up eight spots to No. 20 in KenPom’s rankings after the Minnesota game, but there are still seven other Big Ten teams in the top 30. The Golden Gophers, who entered Tuesday 12-2 overall, aren’t even one of them. It just won’t get much easier.

Winning three straight to start 2019 had been massive. But these next four games could set the tone for the rest of Maryland’s season. The Terps host No. 22 Indiana on Friday night, then Wisconsin on Monday. After that, it’s daunting road games against No. 16 Ohio State (Jan. 18) and No. 6 Michigan State (Jan. 21). Maryland needs just one win in this stretch to remain over .500 in league play, but two would keep the momentum going. Three would be thrilling. Four would be a dream.

It’s a stretch that can be either terrifying or exciting depending on how your team looks. With Maryland’s recent spurt of success, fans seem to be leaning more toward the latter.

In other news

Maryland women’s basketball beat Nebraska handily for its most convincing win in Big Ten play so far.

That gave Brenda Frese 500 career victories (443 of which have come with the Terps). It’s one more than Chris Weller, her predecessor at Maryland, and continues her climb up the all-time list. Everyone celebrated accordingly.

Here’s Justin on what Mike Locksley has left to do as he turns his full attention to coaching Maryland following Alabama’s national championship loss.

Our old (but also still young) friend Jared Goldstein broke down Locksley’s Alabama offense in that title game, and how his scheme might translate to Maryland.

The Baltimore Sun’s Don Markus wrote about Serrel Smith Jr. learning the game from his mom, who played college ball at UCF.

From The Washington Post’s Steven Goff, Maryland soccer defender Donovan Pines is leaving school to pursue pro opportunities. It’s hardly a surprise, and Pines joins goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair in leaving with eligibility remaining.