Big Ten basketball tournament could have a hometown feel for Maryland

How much of a homecourt advantage will the Terps have playing the Big Ten tournament in D.C.?

The Maryland men's basketball team will have a completely different routine going into this year's Big Ten tournament than it had for its first two post-season trips since joining the league.

The No. 25 Terps slept in their own beds in College Park through Wednesday night, will conduct practice at the Xfinity Center through Thursday afternoon and will bus down to Washington tonight before playing in Friday's final quarterfinal game at the Verizon Center.

Third-seeded Maryland (24-7), which will take on the winner of Thursday’s late second-round game between No. 6 seed Northwestern (21-10) and No. 14 seed Rutgers (15-17), also hopes to change its routine once the tournament begins.

The Terps would like to get past the semifinals, where they have lost to Michigan State the past two years, and take home their first conference tournament trophy since winning the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C. in 2004.

Given how many Maryland fans could pack Verizon Center —particularly if the Terps can get to Sunday's final — it might make for a significant homecourt advantage for Mark Turgeon's team.

“I think it will be the best of both worlds,” freshman guard Kevin Huerter said. “I think we play better on the road, and it’ll feel like we’re on the road because you’re 45 minutes down the street staying in a hotel. We’re going to be treating it like a road game, but we’re still going to have our home crowd there. We expect to have kind of that homecourt advantage.” 

Turgeon wouldn't go that far, saying on Monday’s Big Ten coaches’ teleconference, “It will be a neutral court, but we love neutral courts,” referring to his team’s victories this year over Richmond and Kansas State at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. as well as over Charlotte at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore.     

Though Turgeon believes that it won't be the same as Xfinity Center — which might be a good thing considering the Terps lost five games there this season, including four in the Big Ten — at least one of his counterparts thinks otherwise.

Asked if playing in Washington favors the Terps, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Monday: "Sure it does, especially since the rest of us are coming so far. When it's in Chicago, and Illinois is in the finals, it's an orangefest. If it's in Indianapolis, and Purdue or Indiana is in the finals, it's that way for them. Now the difference is that our fans can get to those places a lot easier. So that's a benefit for Maryland. But there are benefits everywhere you play.

"I do believe it's a little more unique. … but we had a chance to beat them [Saturday] and it was 16,000 of their fans. It's not going to determine the game, but it's pretty exciting for them and their fans. Maybe it's incentive for them to get to the finals — no question about it."

History is mixed when it comes to apparent homecourt advantage in the Big Ten tournament. This marks the first time since the tournament began in 1998 that it will be played outside of either Chicago or Indianapolis (next year, it will be in New York).

Illinois reached the final in 1999 and 2000 at the United Center in Chicago, losing both games to Michigan State as a lower seed. The Fighting Illini won there in 2003 and 2005 as a No. 2 and No 1 seed, respectively.

Purdue won at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (then called Conseco Fieldhouse) in Indianapolis in 2009 as a No. 3 seed over No. 5 seed Ohio State, and lost there last season as a No. 4 seed against No. 2 seed Michigan State.

"It was a neutral court for us," Purdue coach Matt Painter said this week. "Even though we had fans, if you look at our record and you look at Indiana's record, it didn't give us any type of advantage. A lot of coaches thought it would, and I don't blame them, because it just makes sense."

The location of this year's tournament — close only to Maryland, and a three-to-four hour drive from lower seeds Penn State and Rutgers, both of which won their opening-round games Wednesday — could give the Terps an advantage others in the past did not have.

"The thing about Indianapolis is that it's right there in the middle [of the Big Ten] and it's very fan-friendly," Painter said. "That's why you see a lot of Final Fours there. You get a lot of people that are able to get there. … Now moving toward the East and giving them an advantage, does it lead to them winning games? It didn't for Indiana and it didn't for Purdue."

The Terps have had their success at the Verizon Center over the years, including a comeback win at Georgetown early this season. In that game, Maryland fans were all but drowning out Hoyas fans in the last few minutes.

The farther Maryland advances, the more of its fans will be present at games.

"I'm sure Terp fans are trying to snatch up tickets," Turgeon said. "Friday night, we should have a pretty good crowd. If we're lucky to advance, which is not easy to do this time of year, if we continue to advance I'm hoping our crowds will continue to grow. Being at home doesn't guarantee you anything."

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