Maryland still has 11 Big Ten regular-season games left before the league convenes in New York for its postseason tournament late next month. There’s plenty of time to still build its mostly empty NCAA tournament resume, but not many real opportunities to do so.
One of them might’ve come Thursday, if not for the fact that Minnesota — once considered a legitimate contender to challenge Michigan State for the regular-season title — has seen its own tournament chances implode of late.
Though saying they’re desperate might be overstating things, the Terps and Gophers certainly should have a similar sense of urgency going into Xfinity Center. They have the same record (14-6, 3-4 Big Ten) — with both losing three of their past four games — and similarly depleted frontcourts.
If Maryland fans can take any solace from their team’s recent struggles — punctuated by Monday’s 68-67 last-second defeat at No. 23 Michigan — it’s that Minnesota only avoided a four-game losing streak with a 95-84 overtime win that night at Penn State.
“We put that game behind us. We watched film yesterday, we learned from it. I was happy with the effort, disappointed with the outcome. It’s just one game,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Wednesday. “We’ve played some really good teams on the road our last three games.
“We finally competed in one of them. The key is how you handle things as you move forward. … We know it’s hard for us to win any game where we are right now. As long as we keep preparing to win and getting better, that’s what I like.”
Turgeon hopes that his undermanned team — which will get Dion Wiley back after the redshirt junior guard missed the past two games with a concussion suffered Jan. 7 against Iowa — will play as well against Minnesota as it did for long stretches against the Wolverines.
Maryland shot 48.1 percent (25-for-52) from the field, while holding Michigan to 41 percent (25-for-61). Defensively, the stretch when the Wolverines hit eight straight 3-point shots to turn a 10-point halftime deficit into a 10-point lead might’ve been the difference.
Asked what he learned from the way the Terps played, especially in the first half when they led by as many as 14 points, Turgeon said, “We were good defensively, we were dialed in. They weren’t as good. The second half, they were at a high level.
“Unfortunately we keep running into teams that are making eight out of 10 3s — that’s hard to overcome in a game. What you take out of it is, we weren’t as good offensively in the second half. We shot a little bit quicker, turned the ball over a little bit more, and that’s what got their offense going.”
In the Gophers, the Terps are going to face a team going through even more serious problems than themselves.
Just as Maryland lost its preseason All-Big Ten selection in sophomore forward Justin Jackson (torn labrum), Minnesota lost one of its two all-conference picks in sophomore forward Amir Coffey with a serious shoulder injury that has sidelined him indefinitely.
Even more critical has been the absence of senior center Reggie Lynch, the Big Ten’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year who has been suspended from games indefinitely after recent allegations of sexual misconduct. Lynch is practicing with the team, but could be facing expulsion.
“They’re still really talented,” Turgeon said. “They have two all-league performers in [forward Jordan] Murphy and [point guard Nate] Mason. They are a little bit older than we are, a little bit more experienced than we are. They still put a really good team on the floor. … We’re both fighting to stay relevant.”
Two of Maryland’s most experienced players — senior center Michal Cekovsky and senior wing Jared Nickens — were freshmen on the 2014-15 team that was blown out in three straight Big Ten road games in late January and early February yet still made the NCAA tournament.
“Some of us talked briefly about my freshman year, a couple of losses we had on the road — it’s just important to get it going tomorrow and start with a home game, just seeing us get a win and watching the ball go through the net, “ Nickens said Wednesday.
The Terps have only one win over a top-50 team — Butler, which is 44th according to Kenpom.com. Of the 11 remaining games, six will be played at home, where Maryland’s only loss was an 80-75 defeat to then-unranked and now-No. 3 Purdue in the Big Ten opener on Dec. 1.
As poorly as the Terps have played recently on the road, as little as they’ve accomplished in trying to build their NCAA tournament resume, ESPN still listed Maryland as a No. 11 seed this week. CBS Sports had Turgeon’s team as one of the first four out in this week’s bracket.
“We’re trying to win every game — where that gets us in the end, I don’t know,” Turgeon said. “We have a lot of great opportunities ahead of us still; 11 good teams. If you’re able to get some wins, it’s going to help you. I can look around the country and there are a lot of teams in similar situations as us.
“It’s how we handle the next five or six weeks is really what’s important. It’s been a very different year from injuries and what we’ve had to go through, we’re still trying to figure it out. I think we’re better at figuring out what we have right now and making that group better. I know we’re more confident today than we were 48 hours ago. Even though we lost, we’re a much more confident team.”