The No. 9 Maryland Terrapins look to take a step closer to a Big Ten regular-season title when they visit the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Wednesday night. The Terrapins are 1.5 games ahead of Michigan State in the Big Ten standings, with the two teams set to meet on Saturday night in College Park, Md. Three other teams enter Wednesday’s action tied for third, two games behind the Terrapins.
Minnesota snapped a three-game losing streak with a win at Northwestern on Sunday, but the Golden Gophers are still sitting at 7-9 in conference play and in 11th place. An overall .500 record is not going to get Minnesota back to the NCAA Tournament, so Richard Pitino’s squad must catch fire and somehow win out if it wants to make the Big Dance.
Minnesota is a one-point favorite at home for this one, with the over/under set at 134.
No Pressure, But …
The Terrapins had won nine straight before falling to Ohio State on Sunday, but some of those victories were very close, so there’s not a lot of margin for error. For Maryland to close out its first Big Ten regular-season title, it must get back on the winning track in a hurry, or a number of teams will be hot on its heels.
The Terrapins are led by the dynamic duo of senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and sophomore forward Jalen Smith. Cowan will break the school record with his 127th consecutive start in this one, and he leads the team in scoring at 16.4 points per game. Cowan has shown a penchant for making the big shots down the stretch of games, so Minnesota must always be focused on keeping a man on him.
Smith is averaging a double-double with 15.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. He had a nine-game string of double-doubles snapped in the loss at Ohio State. Smith must stay out of foul trouble against Minnesota big man Daniel Oturu, or the Terrapins will have containing the Golden Gophers’ star. Guard Aaron Wiggins provides a solid third scorer for Maryland, averaging 10.5 points and hitting 48 three-pointers on the season.
Coming Up Big
If Minnesota is going to make a late run to a postseason berth, Oturu must step up his game and bring his teammates along with him. The sophomore center is second in the Big Ten in scoring (19.7 points), leads the league in rebounding (11.4) and blocked shots (2.7), and is hitting 57.1 percent of his field-goal attempts, but the Gophers can’t be a one-man show.
The guard combo of Marcus Carr (15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.7 assists) and Gabe Kalscheur (11.5 points, 1.1 steals) must produce, especially from the perimeter, if the Gophers are going to give Oturu room to work inside. Minnesota is a very top-heavy offensive unit, with four starters averaging 9.5 points or better, but no reserve averaging as many as 3.5 points.
This is the only meeting between these two teams this season, but Minnesota dropped both meetings a season ago and has lost three straight to the Terrapins. Resumes are a big deal this time of year, so the Golden Gophers need a big win over a Top 10 team to improve theirs.
Terrapins Earn Win
Minnesota can be tough at home, or it can play flat. Getting up for this game shouldn’t be a problem; it’s whether or not the Gophers can sustain for 40 minutes. Maryland had a letdown on Sunday and knows it has to win to avoid a showdown with Michigan State on Saturday for first place in the conference. Look for Cowan to have a big game — he’s averaged 16.4 points and 5.8 assists in five career games with Minnesota — and for Maryland to come away with the win. I’m going with Maryland +1.