Maryland is 5-6 in their last 11 Big Ten game which includes their most recent two game losing streak. They are 1-4 against Top 25 teams in that stretch. That has left the Terps .5 game behind Wisconsin for 4th place and one of the coveted ‘double-bye’ positions.
Maryland will finish their regular season on Friday against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are coming off an upset win over Purdue. Wisconsin will play at home to Iowa on Thursday and at Ohio State on Sunday.
Despite being slightly under .500 record over the last month-plus, the Terps are still one of the scariest teams in the Big Ten. For one, they have Bruno Fernandez. He’s one of the few “traditional” big men in the country. He spends most of his time in the post area but he does have the ability to “stretch” when it’s there.
Per KenPom, Fernandez ranks in the top 10 in eight different categories during Big Ten play. Three of the eight categories are ones that will be very important in March. Fernando is 2nd in the conference in TS%, OR%, and FTRate.
His importance to the team means Maryland head coach, Mark Turgeon, needs to find a way to get him the ball in Fernando’s prime scoring spots. Once the tournament gets here, he can’t have games like he had against Penn State when he only had six shot attempts. When Fernandez is engaged offensively, the Terps are very good. In games where he’s recorded a double-double in conference play, Maryland is 10-4.
What goes hand-in-hand with a dominant big man? A very good point guard. In steps Anthony Cowan Jr. Having an experienced point guard in March can be a decided advantage.
Cowan Jr. might be under more pressure than any other Terp. On offense, he’s asked the get two freshmen starters, Eric Ayala and Jalen Smith, the ball in positions where they can be effective. This can be a challenge with Smith. The uber-athletic freshman can truly work inside-out especially off the dribble but Cowan can’t give him the ball too far from the basket in transition while getting him the ball in his sweet-spot in the half court offense.
As we see more offenses go to “pace and space”, Maryland ranks 13th in tempo in the conference. Instead of using this as a negative, it’s a positive. With Maryland’s ability to exploit mismatches in the halfcourt, Cowan Jr. has learned when the slow down the pace and when to push it up. That’s not easy for a point guard to go in today’s game.
Of course, this also puts pressure on the Terps not to turn the ball over. This has been the biggest undoing of Turgeon’s team. Yes, they are one of the youngest teams in the country. But, a team with a dominant big men and a junior point guard shouldn’t be last in TO% in conference play. Patrick Stevens of The Athletic spoke at length about the Terps turnover woes.
Getting the “double-bye” would helped Maryland immensely. If they finish fourth in the conference, they would play the 5th seed, 11th seed, or 12th seed. Looking at the current standings and putting the Terps 4th and Wisconsin 5th, that would mean a third meeting with the Badgers (1-1). Or if there’s an upset, they would be looking at Indiana (1-0) or Penn State (1-1). All are winnable games.
Keep in mind, if the Terps close with a win over Minnesota and a good run they could end up in the East Region with some team named Duke or a rematch with UVA. If that’s the case, fans would be looking at a third or fourth round game versus the Blue Devils at Capital One Arena. That’s conveniently located a handful of miles away from the Terps campus. This wouldn’t be unprecedented.
Although it was thought of as being highly unlikely, George Mason was able to play the second weekend at Capital One (then known by a different name) against Wichita State and UConn on their way to the Final Four. At the time Wichita State’s head coach was Mark Turgeon. In a 2016 interview with the Washington Post, Turgeon would say, “I knew it was going to be a road game, but I didn’t think it was going to be 16,000 George Mason fans in there. And I just remember how loud and wild (it was), and how loose George Mason’s team was and excited to be there. We really didn’t have any chance.”
Coach Turgeon now has the possibility of being the team with the incredible home court advantage against Duke or UVA. If you thought it was loud when George Mason was there (I know because I was there), imagine the support the Terps would receive if they were there for a tournament game or two.
The possibility is only there if they take care of business this week and next week. Do that and it could be Maryland’s best tournament run since Turgeon took over.