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Maryland men’s basketball vs. Nebraska Big Ten tournament preview

The No. 5-seed Terps open their postseason against the Cornhuskers.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

After not winning a tournament game since 2016, Maryland basketball will look to change fortunes on Thursday afternoon. In its way first is a team it swept in two-regular season meetings.

The No. 21 Terps traveled to a Chicago on Wednesday after earning a single bye as the No. 5 seed. Since the Terps last played on senior night, Bruno Fernando earned first team all-conference, all-defense and honorable mention All-American honors; Anthony Cowan Jr. was named second team all-conference; and Jalen Smith was named to the Big Ten’s all-freshman team.

After limping to the finish of the regular season, Nebraska used a 15-2 run in the second half to secure a 68-61 win over Rutgers to open the Big Ten Tournament Wednesday.

Game information

Thursday, March 14, approx. 3 p.m. ET, United Center, Chicago

TV: Big Ten Network — Brian Anderson (Play-By-Play), Shon Morris (Analyst), Mike Hall (sideline)

Streaming: BTN2Go

Radio: 105.7 FM (Balt.) / 980 AM (DC), Sirius/XM 84, Maryland Sports Radio Network (Johnny Holliday, Chris Knoche, Walt Williams); WMUC Sports (Jarred Belman, Justin Gallanty)

How did they get here?

No. 5-seed Maryland (22-9, 13-7 Big Ten)

After entering the season with the Big Ten’s highest-ranked freshman class and the fourth-youngest team in the country, Maryland’s young guns grew up throughout the season. Without a single senior in the rotation (save for the occasional Ivan Bender minutes), the Terps opened conference play 7-1, and finished an Ohio State win over Wisconsin away from earning the No. 4 seed and double bye in the conference tournament.

No. 13-seed Nebraska (17-15, 6-14)

Nebraska limped to the finish line after starting the season 11-2. It lost its second-best player, Isaac Copeland Jr., to a torn ACL during the third loss of a seven-game losing streak. It then ended the regular season by dropping four of its last five. Despite being ranked at three separate points in the season, the Cornhuskers finished the season looking like a turnstile in conference play. They needed a 27-point second half from James Palmer Jr. to dispatch Rutgers on Wednesday, but provided the internet with this amazing tumble from head coach Tim Miles.

What happened last time

Feb. 6 — Maryland 60, Nebraska 45

Maryland hit the road to face Nebraska after dropping its prior three away from home. The Cornhuskers opened the game with some control, but a personal 11-0 run by Smith gave Maryland the lead and they never looked back. The Terps dominated the paint, with both Smith and Fernando finishing with double-doubles.

The Terps’ stifling defense was further aided by a terrible shooting night from Nebraska. Maryland held the Cornhuskers to just 21 percent shooting on the night, and a brief run to cut the deficit to two after halftime was all the fight Nebraska would put up for the night. After needing a game-winning floater from Smith to take the first matchup in January, the outcome was never in doubt down the stretch.

The loss was Nebraska’s sixth of seven-straight at the time, while the Terps used the win to springboard it to a home win over then-No. 12 Purdue.

Three things to watch

1. Do Maryland’s bigs dominate? Both Fernando and Smith have found success in both matchups against Nebraska this season. Fernando shook off Tanner Borchardt for a jam in Nebraska, while Smith nailed a game-winner in the first match and provided a critical spark in the second. Isaiah Roby will be the main line of defense and averages a team-high 1.8 blocks, but without Copeland there to help, it’ll be hard to contain both of Maryland’s towers.

2. Can Darryl Morsell shut down James Palmer again? Despite ending the last matchup with 14 points, Palmer was a virtual non-factor in the game. This time, he’s coming off a 34-point performance and has to be feeling hot going into the next round. Morsell is Maryland’s defensive stopper and one of the most crucial pieces of the team. If he can limit the quality of Palmer’s looks and make him work for every shot, Nebraska doesn’t have much more firepower behind him.

3. Do the Terps get their first postseason win since 2016? Maryland went to the Sweet Sixteen in 2016 and haven’t won a postseason game since. The next year, it went one-and-done in both the Big Ten tournament and the second round of the NCAAs. Last season, it lost at Madison Square Garden in a grind-it-out game against Wisconsin. With three returners earning big minutes from last year’s team, this group feels battle-ready, even with a freshman-laden group.

The road ahead

If the Terps knock off Nebraska for the third time, a third matchup with Wisconsin lies ahead. The Badgers earned the final double bye of the tournament, and a Maryland win would have that matchup starting at approximately 3 p.m. ET Friday. Cowan, Fernando and Morsell all very much remember how losing to the Badgers felt at last year’s tournament, and would probably welcome the chance for revenge in Chicago. However, the Big Ten has had its fair share of upsets this season, so Maryland can’t afford to look past the Cornhuskers yet.


Kenpom: Maryland 70, Nebraska 67

Me: Maryland 68, Nebraska 60