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Maryland men’s basketball vs. No. 17 Minnesota preview

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The Terps take to Minneapolis to face their fourth straight ranked Big Ten opponent.

Michigan v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

Maryland men’s basketball will play its second consecutive road game this weekend, taking on the No. 17 Minnesota Gophers Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis.

The Terps (8-7, 2-6 Big Ten) are still searching for their identity as Big Ten play reaches its midway point, most recently falling to No. 7 Michigan in blowout fashion Tuesday night. Of Maryland’s first eight conference opponents, six have been ranked in the top-25, with the Gophers marking the seventh in nine Big Ten matchups.

“It’s been a hard adjustment, we’ve been traveling a lot and trying to get our chemistry going and everything,” junior forward Jairus Hamilton said. “Playing a lot of games back-to-back has definitely been hard, but we’ve been pushing through, finding different ways to try to go out and win each game.”

Maryland has dominated Minnesota in the all-time series between the two programs, winning 10 out of its 12 matchups and six out of eight since joining the Big Ten. But the team’s victory last season over the Gophers was perhaps the most dramatic, with a three-pointer from Darryl Morsell in the final seconds helping the Terps overcome a 16-point halftime deficit in a 74-73 win.

The game tips off at 2 p.m. and will be televised on Big Ten Network.

No. 17 Minnesota Gophers (11-4, 4-4 Big Ten)

Head coach Richard Pitino has had an up-and-down tenure in his seven years at the helm for the Gophers, leading Minnesota to an NIT title in his debut season but to just two NCAA Tournaments since then. A former Big Ten Coach of the Year (2017), Pitino’s squad finished last season below .500 for the third time since he took over, but had its first All-American in over 20 years in Daniel Oturu.

Despite losing Oturu to the NBA, Minnesota has enjoyed a resurgence in the 2020-21 season, much in thanks to transfer additions, playing at a high enough level to re-enter the AP Top-25 for the first time since November 2018.

Players to Know

Marcus Carr, redshirt junior guard, 6-foot-2, 195 lbs., No. 5 — After setting a program record in assists last season (209), Carr has continued to develop as a player since transferring from Pittsburgh. Carr does a little bit of everything for the Gophers, currently pacing the team in scoring (20.6), assists (5.9), and steals (16).

Averaging over 35 minutes per game as well, the Terps should see plenty of Carr on Saturday afternoon.

“He’s a really, really good player, maybe one of the best, if not the best offensive player in the league,” Turgeon said. “He’s top two or three for sure, especially at the guard position. We’re gonna have to mix our defenses and our coverages and all that kind of stuff as the game goes on.”

Liam Robbins, junior center, 7-foot, 235 lbs, No. 0 — Another successful Pitino transfer, Robbins joined Minnesota this season after spending two seasons at Drake and has made an instant impact. An inside-outside scorer, Robbins is efficient down low and can stretch the floor. He’s averaging 13.8 points per game, shooting 47.5% from the floor and 40.6% from deep.

Posting team-highs with 7.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game as well, Robbins is one of the most complete big men in the conference this season.

Both Gach, junior guard, 6-foot-6, 185 lbs., No. 11 — This summer, Gach entered the transfer portal and listed both Maryland and Minnesota among his top-five choices. He ultimately opted to return to his home state and join the Gophers, with his decision already paying dividends.

Gach, who has a close relationship with Terp center Chol Marial, is third on the team in scoring this season behind Carr and Robbins, posting 10.3 points per game on 43.9% shooting. His frame also allows him to play and guard multiple positions, making him the Swiss Army knife of this Minnesota team.

Strength

Rebounding. With three players in its starting lineup over 6-foot-6, Minnesota does a strong job when it comes to crashing the glass, especially on the offensive end of the floor. With 580 total rebounds and 172 offensive rebounds this season, the Gophers rank 20th and 30th in Division I in those respective categories.

Weakness

Three-point shooting. Though they have multiple players that are more than willing to pull trigger from deep, the Gophers have struggled with three-point shooting so far this season. As a team, Minnesota has shot just 29.9% from beyond the arc, ranking 299th out of 347 qualifying Division I programs.

Three Things to Watch

1. How will Galin Smith adjust to guarding a stretch five? The senior graduate transfer has performed decently as of late against some of the best big men the Big Ten has to offer, holding his ground against the likes of Kofi Cockburn and Hunter Dickinson in Maryland’s last two matchups. However, Robbins will present a similar challenge to that of Luka Garza, who poured in 24 points on the Terps, including a pair of three-pointers.

Smith has clearly made strides defensively as conference play has worn on, but how he’s able to perform away from the basket should be interesting to see.

“He’s a heck of a player, I can’t imagine this kid how good he was at Drake,” Turgeon said of Robbins. “He’s a tough matchup ... I think we’re gonna have to change our coverages as the game goes on, and hopefully it’ll help us keep them a little bit off-balance.”

2. Will Eric Ayala be back in peak form? After nursing a groin injury since Christmas, Ayala was brought off the bench in Maryland’s last contest against Michigan for the first time since January of last season. Though he managed 12 points in 31 minutes on the floor, Ayala looked as though he was still feeling the effects of that lingering injury on Tuesday night.

Whether he can return to the starting lineup and get fully back to his old self could make a significant difference in Saturday’s game.

“It’s definitely a process, I’m definitely getting close. I’m not using it as an excuse,” Ayala said. “If I’m able to go out there and play, in my mind I’m 100 percent.”

3. Will Minnesota finally fall at home? Part of the Gophers’ strong start has been how well they’ve defended their home floor, posting an undefeated record so far this season. Minnesota has looked like a different team when it’s playing at The Barn, winning all 11 of its games there, including upsets over both Iowa and Michigan.

Minnesota’s average margin of victory at home this season has been over 15 points, and bucking that trend won’t be an easy task for the Terps on Saturday.

Predictions

Vegas: Minnesota -6 (over/under 146)

ESPN BPI: Minnesota 68.9% chance to win

KenPom: Minnesota 76, Maryland 70 (Maryland 31% chance to win)

Me: Minnesota 74, Maryland 60