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Maryland men’s basketball vs Northwestern preview

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The Terps head to Evanston, Illinois, for their last road game of the regular season.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland men’s basketball will look to continue its winning ways on Wednesday night, traveling to Evanston, Illinois, to take on Northwestern in the team’s penultimate game of the regular season.

The Terps’ late season renaissance continues to yield win after win, with their latest efforts on the court resulting in a dominant 73-55 win over Michigan State on Sunday to improve to 15-10 and an even 9-9 in Big Ten play.

At the center of the resurgence has been the team’s budding guard tandem in Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins. The duo has been on fire as of late, each averaging exactly 17.2 points per game over the team’s five game win streak.

“It has been really fun playing with Eric,” Wiggins said. “When we’re going, it’s hard for other teams to stop us and it opens a court up for other guys as well.”

Maryland’s recent success has not gone unnoticed either, with the team receiving nine votes in the latest AP Top 25 poll, its first appearance among the vote getters since December. Bracketologists are also looking fondly upon the Terps now, with projections listing them as low as a nine seed and as high as a six seed.

The game tips off at 9 p.m. and will be televised on Big Ten Network.

Northwestern Wildcats (7-14, 4-13 Big Ten)

2019-20 record: 8-23, 3-17 Big Ten

Head coach Chris Collins is in his eighth season as the head coach of the Wildcats, enjoying mild success season-to-season but still unable to elevate the program above the middle to bottom tier of the Big Ten.

The 2020-21 season was on pace to be one of Collins’ best since taking the reigns at Northwestern, beginning Big Ten play with consecutive wins over Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State to earn a spot in the AP Top 25. However, the Collins’ Wildcats came crashing down to Earth, losing 13 straight games to plummet back to the bottom of the conference.

Players to Know

Chase Audige, redshirt sophomore guard, 6-foot-4, 200 lbs., No. 1 — Audige was an excellent find by Collins and his coaching staff, swiping him away from William & Mary two years ago and reaping the benefits this season. Audige has paced the Wildcats in scoring in his first season suiting up with the team, posting an average of 12.4 points per game. His shooting efficiency hasn’t been great (39.4% field goal percentage), but he’s far and away Northwestern’s most capable and willing scorer.

Miller Kopp, junior forward, 6-foot-7, 215 lbs., No. 10 — Kopp has been a mainstay of the Northwestern frontcourt for each of the last two seasons, serving as the type of player that can shoot at will if given the space. Kopp has shot 37.4% from beyond the arc as a Wildcat, including a 37.8% clip this season on almost four attempts per game. He’s also averaged 11.9 points per contest this season, second only to Audige.

Pete Nance, junior forward, 6-foot-10, 225 lbs., No. 22 — Nance controls the paint for the Wildcats but is also capable of stretching the floor a bit as well. He leads the team in both rebounds per game (6.6) and blocks (15), and has managed to develop into a serviceable three-point shooter, shooting a career-high 33.3% from deep this season.

Strength

None. To put it simply, there really aren’t many things this year’s Northwestern team does especially well. This year’s Wildcats rank outside the Top 100 in Division I in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage, assists, rebounding, steals and blocks. Northwestern ranks in the bottom half of the Big Ten in scoring offense and defense as well. There are only two statistical categories that the Wildcats have been above-average at this season: opponent three-point percentage (32.7%, fourth in Big Ten) and turnover margin (0.71, sixth in Big Ten).

Weakness

Rebounding. Despite relying on two players over 6-foot-7 to play 30 minutes a night, the Wildcats have struggled to control the glass this season. Northwestern averages just 33.1 rebounds per game, ranking 247th in Division I in that category and dead last in the Big Ten.

Three Things to Watch

1. Can the Terps avoid the trap game? Maryland successfully navigated the roughest remaining part of its schedule over the last two weeks, with Wednesday night’s contest against the Wildcats likely being the easiest remaining game until the Big Ten tournament. But Northwestern can’t be overlooked, considering the teams it’s already managed to beat this season. On the other hand, the Terps are playing their best and most confident basketball of the season right now and certainly won’t want to let their guard down.

“I think we kind of found who we are,” senior guard Darryl Morsell said. “We’ve seen success recently and we know what it takes to win games be competitive in this league.”

2. Will Maryland continue to live at the free throw line? The Terps have thrived at the charity stripe as of late, and should look to continue that success on Wednesday. Over the last two games, Maryland has made 52 trips to the free throw line while converting on 41 of them (78 percent). The team has also shot a 80 percent over the last seven games, representing a significant improvement to its free throw shooting display earlier this season.

3. Can Maryland keep shooting well on the road? Maryland is coming off of one of its best three-point shooting performances of the season, having shot 8-of-16 (50 percent) from beyond the arc in its win against Michigan State. But the team’s shooting has been anything but consistent this season, and doing so on the road has been even more difficult for the Terps. Whether Maryland has turned a corner in regard to its three-point shooting should be interesting to watch.

“Guys are more consistent now,” Turgeon said. “Across the board, the guys that are playing have been pretty consistent ... So really that’s been the difference, consistency and practice consistency in the games.”

Predictions

Vegas: Maryland -3

ESPN BPI: 58.2% chance of Maryland win

Kenpom: Maryland 68, Northwestern 65 (61% chance of Maryland win)

Me: Maryland 70, Northwestern 60