COLLEGE PARK — When ESPN announced earlier this month that its first "College GameDay" of basketball season was coming to East Lansing, Mich., to hype Saturday's game between Michigan State and Maryland, the Spartans were ranked No. 1 in the country and the Terps were No. 3, with only Kansas between them.
To say things have changed since for both Big Ten teams, especially the Spartans, would be an understatement.
When the teams tip off at Breslin Center, No. 7 Maryland (17-2, 6-1 Big Ten) will be trying prove that it's a lot better than it showed in barely surviving Northwestern at home Tuesday and No. 11 Michigan State (16-4, 3-4) will be trying to break a rare three-game losing streak after getting beat at home Wednesday by Nebraska.
Coming off the most impressive performance of the season — a 100-65 demolition of Ohio State last Saturday — the Terps managed just 17 second-half points, none in the last 4½ minutes of regulation. Maryland needed overtime and some late-game heroics from sophomore point guard Melo Trimble and freshman center Diamond Stone to beat the Wildcats at home, 62-56.
After the Spartans erased a seven-point deficit midway through the first half and led with under 12 minutes to go, they watched as Cornhuskers star Shavon Shields took control. Michigan State then saw its own star, Denzel Valentine, fuel a late comeback with a wild 3-point desperation bank shot with four seconds to go, only to miss another much cleaner jumper right before the buzzer in a 72-71 loss.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after practice Thursday that he hoped his team would use its lackluster performance as yet another wake-up call in a stretch where the Terps have alternated between looking potentially dominant, as happened against the Buckeyes, and strangely disinterested, as they did against the Wildcats. The Terps also also appeared to be lethargic early in a comeback home win over Penn State.
"It's nice to win and still learn," Turgeon said. "It's easier to watch film when you win and you've made those mistakes. The key is that you come out to the practice floor and try to correct it, which we did today. We got better as a team today on a lot of things that we've been struggling with. That should help us down the road."
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo described his team as "reeling" after losing to Nebraska. The best start in school history (13-0) is a distant memory, replaced by the worst seven-game start in the Big Ten for the Spartans since the 2002-03 season. Valentine's return four games ago after undergoing midseason knee surgery has been offset by a foot injury to point guard Tum Tum Nairn.
"There's blood in the water, you know?" Izzo said. "And so the sharks are coming."
Asked if he expects the Spartans to be desperate, Turgeon said, "I don't know if I would use the word desperate. I'd much rather play a team after they've won three games [in a row] than lost a few, or even lost one. You saw the way Northwestern came in here after they lost a home game to Penn State. It's really about us, getting ourselves more prepared than we were the other night."
In a conference call Wednesday morning — hours before the Michigan State-Nebraska game — ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg said that the statistics for points-per-possession demonstrate Michigan State's struggles, even with the return of Valentine. During the historic start, the Spartans were in the top 25 in the country in that category. Since Valentine came back, they are 79th, according to Greenberg.
"They haven't played well. They haven't been as connected. They haven't been as efficient," Greenberg said. "Players that Tom is counting on haven't been as consistent obviously since Denzel went out. … Tom's going to have to shorten his bench, and lock into an eight-man rotation to gain a chemistry and that's hard to do when you have all these injuries."
Greenberg wouldn't go as far as to say it's a must-win for the Spartans.
"It's an opportunity for Michigan State to take back its homecourt," he said. "I think it's a game that's kind of a barometer, where they're at. Michigan State is trying to get healthy. They lost Tum Tum again. I think it's going to a little bit of a test because their best on-ball defender [Nairn], they're going to be without and having to guard maybe the best ball-screen guard in all of college basketball [Trimble]."
Trimble said he could barely remember last year's game in East Lansing, when both teams struggled offensively for most of the night. After Dez Wells hit a 3-pointer with three seconds left to put the game into overtime, the Terps won in double overtime, 68-66, in Maryland's first Big Ten men's basketball game.
"I don't even remember the shooting percentages up there. I just know that we won in double overtime and it was a great game," said Trimble, who finished 2-for-13 overall and 1-for-8 on 3-pointers, but made 12 of 14 from the free-throw line.
ESPN analyst Jay Williams said Saturday's game is not a must-win for the Terps, either, but is a chance to live up to their preseason billing — along with the Spartans — as one of league's favorites.
"I think it's a very needy win for a Maryland team that is 1-2 in true road games," Williams said. "It's a huge opportunity for Maryland to make a statement in the league because all the talk in the league right now is about Iowa and how hot of a team Iowa is. This Maryland team, they have some question marks about their toughness. They've got the personnel to be great, but they really can make a statement getting a Big Ten road win."