It took another double-digit comeback, No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball picked up another victory against then-No. 20 Illinois Friday night.
After the 75-66 defeat of the Fighting Illini, the Terps have now rattled off six straight wins — their longest streak since winning the first 10 games of the season. And they’ll have a chance to make it seven in a row at home on Tuesday against one of the worst teams in the Big Ten.
Maryland will play host to Nebraska, which currently sits in 13th place in the conference with a 2-10 record in league play and a 7-16 mark overall. Through the first three-and-a-half months of the season, only Northwestern has been worse.
But despite the massive perceived edge, Mark Turgeon’s team isn’t going to look past the Cornhuskers with a game at Michigan State slated for the weekend.
“I really don’t,” Turgeon said on whether he worries about the team staying focused. “Our guys are pretty dialed in. We’ve been that way — we talk about not getting too high, not getting too low, and let’s go try to win the next one. ... I expect us to play well tomorrow.”
And after a brief stint on the road, the Terps are excited to come back and play in front of the home crowd.
“We’re really excited to come back here, being in front of the student body,” sophomore Aaron Wiggins said. “It’s no greater feeling than playing in front of the best fans in the country. I think we’re really excited, ready to play.”
Tuesday’s game is scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m. ET and can be watched on the Big Ten Network.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-16, 2-10 Big Ten)
2018-19 record: 19-17 (6-14 Big Ten)
Head coach Fred Hoiberg hasn’t had the return to college basketball that he would’ve hoped in his first season with the Cornhuskers, though he was dealt a terrible hand. Nebraska had just one returning player with any experience entering the 2019-20 campaign, and he averaged just 2.0 points per game the year before. Every other rotation piece on the team either graduated or transferred, leaving Hoiberg with little chance of making a big impact in Lincoln off the bat. Before coaching at Nebraska, Hoiberg was head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Iowa State Cyclones — his alma mater — after a 10-year NBA career.
Players to know
Cam Mack, redshirt sophomore guard, 6’2, 175 lbs, No. 3. Mack had an interesting journey to Lincoln, starting out his collegiate career at Stephen F. Austin before leaving to attend Salt Lake Community College. He dominated for the Bruins, scoring 19.1 points with 7.6 assists and 2.4 steals per game to catch Hoiberg’s eye. So far this season for Nebraska, Mack is averaging a team-high 13.0 points and 6.4 assists, the latter of which ranks third in the Big Ten.
Haanif Cheatham, redshirt senior guard, 6’5, 195 lbs, No. 22. Cheatham has been around the block, starting his college playing days at Marquette as a consensus top-100 recruit before transferring to Florida Gulf Coast during the middle of his third season. He played well for the Eagles before going down with a season-ending injury after just 10 games, which led him to Lincoln to play for Hoiberg. Cheatham has started every game for the Cornhuskers, and he’s averaging 11.9 points per game while shooting 48.3 percent from the floor.
Dachon Burke Jr., redshirt junior guard, 6’4, 180 lbs, No. 11. Sensing a theme here yet? Burke began his college career at Robert Morris, where he spent two seasons playing with the Colonials. As a sophomore, he paced the team in scoring with his 17.6 per game, and he ultimately decided to transfer to Nebraska after the 2017-18 campaign. After sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, Burke has been a full-time starter for Hoiberg so far this season. He’s averaging 11.4 points per game, though his shot hasn’t been there just yet — Burke is shooting just 26.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Ball control. As lean a year this has been so far for the Cornhuskers, it hasn’t been for a lack of discipline on offense. Nebraska currently leads the Big Ten in turnover margin at plus-2.7 per game, due in large part to their miniscule 15.3 turnover percentage. That latter figure ranks seventh in the entire nation, placing the Cornhuskers behind only Notre Dame and Virginia Tech among major-conference teams.
Everything else. Nebraska is 7-16 for a reason. The Cornhuskers have struggled mightily in shooting, ranking 223rd in the country and 12th in the Big Ten — interestingly enough, above Maryland — in effective field goal percentage at 48.5. Hoiberg’s team has been getting absolutely dominated on the glass, producing a league-worst minus-10.1 rebounding margin on the year; the next-worst team is Northwestern at just minus-2.8. And the Cornhuskers have also been a sieve defensively on the interior, ranking outside the top-300 in block percentage.
Three things to watch
1. Does Nebraska make it interesting? Tuesday’s game won’t be unfamiliar territory for Maryland. Just a few weeks ago on Jan. 21, the Terps faced the only team in the Big Ten worse than Nebraska in Northwestern, and they let the Wildcats hang around for much longer than expected. Granted, that was on the road — where Maryland has had its struggles this year — and this contest will be in College Park.
By all accounts, the game shouldn’t be close, but stranger things — like when the Cornhuskers shocked the Terps in the Big Ten tournament last year — have happened before.
2. Will Maryland’s transition offense make the difference? In the Terps’ best performances this season, they were able to get out on the run and take advantage of their athleticism to lead to easy offense on the break. The key to beating Turgeon’s team so far this season has been to make it play offense in the half court — in Maryland’s four losses, it averaged just 7.3 fast break points per game (4.7 not including Penn State) compared to 14.2 in wins.
Nebraska is an up-tempo team, ranking 12th in the nation in shortest possession length on offense. And given the amount of shots the Cornhuskers miss, a high-speed game could lead to easy opportunities for the Terps in transition.
3. Will Jalen Smith be challenged at all? It was touched on above, but Nebraska has been outmatched in the post — and for good reason. The Cornhuskers lack size and start a four-guard lineup, leaving freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo as the only real post player. Despite starting every game and averaging 21.0 minutes, the French native is shooting just 39.5 percent from the floor while scoring 5.2 points and adding 5.9 rebounds per game.
Ouedraogo has struggled especially against some of the Big Ten’s better bigs — Luka Garza has scored 38 points with 26 rebounds in two meetings against Nebraska — and Smith could see similar success. And Smith will be the center of attention on Tuesday night, as Maryland is giving fans goggles and glow sticks as an ode to the sophomore big.
“Knowing that Maryland’s recognized my play and just decided to dedicate the night to me is amazing. Most people who play on the team don’t ever get a night here,” Smith said. “I’m going to have fun with it. Most of the people are going to try to get my attention throughout the whole game — I’ll probably flick the goggles a little bit — this is going to be an amazing night.”
Vegas: Maryland -16.5, O/U 144 (as of Monday afternoon)
ESPN BPI: Maryland 96.5% chance to win
KenPom: Maryland 80, Nebraska 62 (Maryland 95% chance to win)
Me: Maryland 85, Nebraska 67