Maryland basketball has developed a trend, losing on the road and then winning at home repeatedly to stay in the NCAA Tournament picture. The Terps have lost their past six away from home and won nine of ten at home. They need to continue that formula tonight when Wisconsin visits Xfinity Center (7 pm, BTN). At 12-7 overall and 3-5 in Big Ten play, they sit 11th in the conference standings and are clinging to a spot on the right side of the projected NCAA Tournament bubble.
To solidify their postseason profile, they need to capitalize on a three-game homestand of winnable games against Wisconsin, Nebraska and Indiana.
“Obviously we’d like to be better than three and five obviously. But I think the fact that we’ve had the hardest conference schedule going forward, and where we are and what we have ahead of us with home games,” Maryland coach Kevin Willard said, “I think it’s a big stretch for us, but at the same time it gives us a chance to get some good wins.”
Maryland can tie Wisconsin (12-6, 4-4 Big Ten) in the standings and in the season series with a win, having lost to the Badgers in Madison six weeks ago, 64-59. That was Maryland’s first loss after a red-hot 8-0 start that catapulted them to the No. 13 spot in AP Poll. That started the run of six straight losses in non-home games. The Terps have continued to limit opponents defensively, ranking 31st nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom, but have struggled on the other end, ranking last in the Big Ten in scoring during conference play at 61.5 points per game.
“When we had the 8-0 start, we were high in defensive efficiency and offensive efficiency,” said the point guard Jahmir Young, whose scoring binge ended in a 4-for-18 day in Maryland’s narrow loss Sunday at now-No. 1 Purdue. “Just trying to focus on our tempo, trying to speed up the game and play at our place instead of their pace is something that we’re going to try to do.”
It might seem strange that Maryland is favored by 5.5 points until you look at the recent struggles and lack of rest for its opponent. Wisconsin, which just got leading scorer and second-leading rebounder Tyler Wahl (12.8 points, 6.2 rebounds per game) back from injury, was ranked for a chunk of the season, but has fallen out of the polls after losing four of his past five. All of the losses have come against unranked Big Ten Teams, most recently at Northwestern. That game was postponed from Saturday to Monday, leaving the Badgers little time to travel to Maryland for tonight’s game.
“It’s just like — we’ve played three in a row in the Bahamas. If you get in the postseason, you play every other day,” coach Greg Gard said. “These guys are basketball players. They’re used to this stuff.”
Wisconsin will be without its top defender, junior guard Max Klesmit. Maryland is hoping to build on its second-half effort at Purdue — the No. 1 overall projected March Madness seed — during which it outscored the Boilermakers 34-23 in their notoriously tough home building.
“We can play with anybody in the country if we could bring that for 40 minutes,” Young said.
A win over the Badgers, a projected NCAA Tournament team, would add some juice to Maryland’s Tournament resume
“They have a great attitude. I show them all the KenPom stuff, which ranks conference schedules, who you’ve played, where they rank,” Willard said. “I give them all that information. I show them Bracketology. I think it’s very important for them to understand, like, kids don’t see the big picture, so it’s an adult’s job to inform them and educate them and try to give them the best picture possible. so I’ve always been very, very open with my teams about where we are and what we have ahead of us.”
It’ll help their cause if sophomore center Julian Reese continues his improvement. He played one of the best games of his career at Purdue, making 8 of 11 shots and scoring 19 points while matched up with national player of the year favorite Zach Edey.
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“It’s huge, especially when you think about, I go back the last two games and what he’s done against Hunter [Dickinson] and uh Zach,” Willard said. “The elite centers not only in this conference, but in college basketball. I thought he won the Hunter battle … And even the other night, Zach had an unbelievable night, but I thought I thought he had an unbelievable night.
“I think he’s got a lot of confidence because he’s been putting a lot of extra work in and I think our guys have a lot of confidence in him.”
Wisconsin has won three in a row in the series and the past two in College Park. Maryland is coming off a 3-for-21 3-point shooting performance at Purdue and continues to be limited by its deep shooting, which ranks No. 327 nationally at 30.1 percent.