With just six games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament, it is sink or swim time for Maryland men’s basketball.
The Terps will welcome the Nebraska Cornhuskers to College Park for back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday night as they look to build positive momentum.
After taking down Minnesota Sunday night, head coach Mark Turgeon spoke about how his team was trying to channel positive thoughts and energy in hopes that it could translate to positive results on the floor.
Maryland came out firing against Minnesota, jumping out to a commanding 20-6 lead in just over seven minutes of play. Senior Galin Smith had a strong all-around effort, scoring eight points and adding three rebounds and three assists in the first half alone, sparking his teammates to carry out the 72-59 victory.
Completing the season sweep of the Golden Gophers was a step in the right direction, but attention now turns to two games in two days against Nebraska.
“We’ve got to lock in, and lock in defensively and keep sharing the ball, but the guys, they see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Turgeon said. “They know it’s coming to an end soon, so we got to make haste quickly.”
Turgeon said that the team would focus on recovery Monday and go through a light walk-through that night ahead of its tilts against the Cornhuskers. Players who did not get as much run Sunday will get workouts in, while those who played significant minutes will be resigned to getting their bodies right.
Both Tuesday and Wednesday’s games are at 7 p.m. at Xfinity Center and will be broadcasted on Big Ten Network.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-12, 1-9 Big Ten)
2019-20 record: 7-25 (2-18 Big Ten)
Head coach Fred Hoiberg is in his second season leading the Nebraska program after taking over on March 30, 2019. The Cornhuskers have struggled to square up in Big Ten play, losing 26 league games in a row before taking down Penn State Sunday.
Nebraska has struggled in the conference consistently over the years, with the occasional blip of success. Since Maryland joined the Big Ten in 2014, the Cornhuskers finished above 11th in the conference just once, ending the 2017-18 season tied for fourth with a 22-11, 13-5 record. And let’s not forget they knocked the Terps out of the Big Ten tournament in the 2018-19 season.
Players to know
Teddy Allen, junior guard, 6-foot-6, 223 lbs., No. 0 — Despite playing for a lackluster team, Allen has done his part to show up for the Cornhuskers. Averaging 16.6 points per game, the junior ranks sixth in the Big Ten, only trailing guards Ayo Dosunmu and Marcus Carr in backcourt production. Allen also leads the Cornhuskers in shots attempted by a wide margin, taking 59 more shots than McGowens, who is second with 160 attempts.
Dalano Banton, sophomore guard, 6-foot-9, 204 lbs., No. 45 — Similar to some of the mainstays on the Maryland roster, Banton plays the role of a big guard, operating inside and outside with his size. Banton is the most complete all-around player on the Nebraska roster, averaging 10.8 points, a team-leading 6.6 rebounds and a team-leading 4.7 assists. This past December, Banton notched a triple-double against NAIA Doane University with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
Trey McGowens, junior guard, 6-foot-4, 191 lbs., No. 2 — McGowens transferred to Nebraska from Pittsburgh ahead of this season and instantly claimed a significant role in the program. Averaging 11 points and 4.2 rebounds, McGowens is a strong third option offensively for the Cornhuskers. McGowens is also the best three-point shooter for Nebraska so far this season, converting from long-range at a 37.2% clip on 43 attempts.
Three-point defense. There’s not much that Nebraska does strongly on the floor, but it does do a good job of limiting successful attempts from long-range. Despite giving up the fourth-most three-point attempts (469) in the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers only allow opponents to convert 30.9 percent of chances.
Shooting. Nebraska has clearly struggled the most of any Big Ten team this season and its scoring margin of -2.2 is a clear example. Part of the reason for those struggles are defensive, but the Cornhuskers struggle to score on top of all else. Nebraska converts just 41% of its field goals and 31.4% of chances from three-point range, both of which stand at second-worst in the Big Ten.
Things to watch
1. Can Maryland build momentum? Stringing together wins has been a struggle for many teams this season, but the Terps have had an especially tough time. With a front-loaded Big Ten schedule and consistently being out on the road, Maryland hasn’t put together back-to-back wins over Division I teams since beating Mount St. Mary’s and Saint Peters on Nov. 29 and Dec. 4, respectively. With the Terps on the bubble, taking both games from Nebraska and notching their first three-game win-streak since 2020 is a big need to boost confidence for the Terps.
2. Will the Terps continue playing well inside? When Maryland isn’t up against some of the nation’s best in the paint, it has done well to battle inside and command the paint. Nebraska features a roster similar in size to the Terps, providing another chance to have a fair battle. After out-rebounding and outscoring Ohio State and Minnesota in its last two matchups, Maryland has a chance to build even more consistency inside, especially with Galin Smith trending in a positive direction.
3. How will Maryland handle the back-to-back? Back-to-back games are a rarity in basketball once many get past the days of AAU, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced teams to shift and adapt. Tuesday and Wednesday’s games will mark the first back-to-back for the Terps since 1949 and will truly test the team’s ability to focus and play smart basketball. Turgeon noted Sunday that he attempted to manage minutes, including eight players seeing the floor in the first 10 minutes, but the had to alter his plan down the stretch to get the win. How minutes are divided Tuesday and Wednesday will be something to keep an eye on.
Odds (Tuesday only)
Vegas: Maryland -9 (O/U 134.5)
ESPN BPI: 82.5% chance of Maryland win
Kenpom: Maryland 72-62 Nebraska (83% chance of Maryland win)
Me: Maryland 72, Nebraska, 60