Terps look to snap out of funk; Minnesota, Indiana next on the slate
After taking care of business against Iowa, Maryland’s games against Ohio State and Michigan were opportunities for Mark Turgeon’s team to build some momentum and pick up quality wins against the Big Ten’s two biggest (positive) surprises to this point in the season. Maryland couldn’t get the job done however, as Ohio State rolled in Columbus and two Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman free throws sealed the Terps’ fate in Ann Arbor.
Picking up wins in those road games was going to be tough, especially with Ohio State having the personnel (Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate) necessary to exploit the absence of Justin Jackson. But given the non-conference profile, it can be argued that a split was needed with regards to Maryland’s NCAA tournament hopes. Those losses set up a crucial two-game stretch for Maryland, with games against Minnesota and Indiana falling into the “can’t afford to lose” category with games against Michigan State and Purdue looming.
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Thursday’s matchup with Minnesota should be interesting because of the fact that Golden Gophers are desperate for some positive momentum as well. Richard Pitino’s team, which had the look of a Big Ten contender for much of non-conference play, had lost three straight before its overtime win at Penn State Monday night. They’re without two starters, as Amir Coffey’s out due to injury and Reggie Lynch is out due to suspension. While Coffey should be back at some point this season, given the details surrounding Lynch’s absence it would be tough for either Pitino or the school to justify putting the senior center back on the court at any point this season.
That all being said this isn’t a team that lacks talent, with Nate Mason being an All-Big Ten point guard last season and Jordan Murphy being one of the early candidates for Big Ten Player of the Year. Averaging 18.1 points, 12.1 rebounds and just over a block per game on the season, Murphy went off for 22 points and 19 rebounds in Monday’s win over Penn State. He’s only 6-foot-6 but Murphy plays bigger than that, and with his athleticism he will be a tough matchup for Maryland despite the fact that he isn’t as inclined to step away from the basket as either Bates-Diop or Tate were for Ohio State.
6-foot-5 guard Dupree McBrayer is averaging just over ten points per game, and he’s a solid option on both ends of the floor for this team. The key for Maryland will be how they deal with Murphy; for the talent at the other positions given the absences from the Minnesota rotation the Terps have what it takes at the other spots. But they’re going to need productive nights from Kevin Huerter and Bruno Fernando — when is that not the case? — in order to hold serve at home.
Do that, and next on the agenda is a trip to Bloomington to face an Indiana team that’s won three straight heading into their matchup with Michigan State. A big reason for the Hoosiers’ improved play of late: forward Juwan Morgan, who’s developed into one of the better forwards in the Big Ten under the tutelage of Archie Miller. After averaging 7.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Morgan’s up to 15.6 points and 7.4 boards per night as a junior. Similar to Murphy, Morgan isn’t a guy who’s going to spend a great amount of time firing up three-pointers. But what he can do is efficiently get to his preferred spots both in the mid-range and around the basket, and he’s shooting 59.3 percent from the field.
Morgan and senior guard Robert Johnson are the team’s lone double-digit scorers, with there being multiple supplementary options capable of providing an offensive boost on occasion. Indiana lost De’Ron Davis to a torn Achilles tendon, leaving them down a man in the post, which has required the non-Morgan front court players to chip in by committee. Indiana’s done a good job of turning opponents over in conference play, ranking second in the Big Ten in defensive turnover percentage and first in steal percentage. The good news for Maryland is that they’ve improved when it comes to taking care of the basketball since the resumption of conference play, and they’ll need to stay on that track to win at Indiana.
The key for Maryland in these next two games: get stops. While the turnovers have been better the defense hasn’t, with Maryland ranking at or near the bottom of the Big Ten in multiple statistical categories (conference games only). The Terps are last in defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage and three-point percentage, with opponents shooting better than 46 percent from deep. Add in the fact that they don’t turn over their opponents much, and there’s a major need for improvement. Maryland does lead the conference in defensive rebounding percentage, but when opponents are shooting the ball well there aren’t as many “scrums” to win.
As noted above Maryland will have to deal with Michigan State and Purdue after these two games, which makes it imperative that they show well and take care of Minnesota and Indiana. Fail to do so, and this group will be in serious trouble.