As Maryland visits No. 6 Michigan on Saturday, Purdue has the easiest road to Big Ten's top seed

As much as beating No. 12 Purdue on Tuesday helped No. 24 Maryland stay in contention for a Big Ten regular-season title heading into Saturday’s game at No. 6 Michigan, the loss to the Terps didn’t damage the Boilermakers too much.

The reason?

Of its seven remaining games, Purdue doesn’t play a single team with a winning record in Big Ten play. In fact, the Boilermakers start and finish the backstretch of their schedule with the two worst teams in the Big Ten — Penn State (2-11) and Northwestern (3-10).

About the only obstacle in the way of Purdue coach Matt Painter’s team winning its second Big Ten regular-season title in the past three years is the fact that the Boilermakers have to play four games on the road.

Purdue is 3-5 away from Mackey Arena, where it hasn’t lost this season (12-0). The Boilermakers won two road games in overtime, needing Wisconsin to collapse at the end of the extra session and receiving a favorable call at Penn State to get into overtime.

Given that Maryland has more ground to make up currently sitting in fourth place — at 10-4, the Terps are one game behind front runners Michigan and Michigan State, who are both 11-3, and a half-game behind Purdue (10-3) — winning the league’s regular-season title is still a long shot.

Starting with Saturday’s game at Michigan, Maryland has three of its remaining six games against teams with winning league records — two against the Wolverines as well as Tuesday’s game at No. 21 Iowa (8-5), with the other three being against Ohio State (6-7) and Minnesota (6-8) at home and Penn State on the road.

The Terps have already doubled last year’s road wins total, after they won only the 2017-18 Big Ten road opener at Illinois and the final road game at Northwestern. Maryland has won at Rutgers, Minnesota, Ohio State and Nebraska this season while losing at Purdue, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

“If you look at our road schedule when it’s done, we’ll play seven of the top eight teams on the road, and we’re the eighth, so that’s a tough road schedule,” Turgeon told reporters in College Park Friday. “Has it surprised me [winning four road games already]? Yeah, a little bit. It all started at Purdue. Our guys really dug in there and I think that gave them a lot of confidence."

There is a lot of anticipation in the state of Michigan with the Wolverines and No. 11 Spartans meeting twice in 14 days at the end of the regular season, but Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s team clearly has a better path than Michigan coach John Beilein’s squad to get to the title.

Michigan State has four of its last six games at the Breslin Center, where aside from a surprising overtime loss to Indiana on Feb. 2, the Spartans have dominated (11-1 overall at home). Take away the two games against Michigan and the collective league record of Michigan State’s four remaining opponents is 19-35.

Michigan has its last six games split evenly between the Crisler Center and the road, but the Wolverines finish the regular season with games at Maryland and Michigan State, albeit six days apart. Take away the Spartans, and Michigan’s remaining opponents are 20-22 in the Big Ten, with two games against the Terps.

A lot has been made of the league’s unbalanced schedule potentially favoring one team over the other, and that, too, tilts in the direction of both the Boilermakers and Spartans.

The record of the opponents Purdue has had to play once so far this season is 55-67, compared to 21-7 for teams it has played two times. Michigan State’s two-time opponents to date have been Iowa (8-5) and Purdue, compared to a combined 55-81 record of teams it has had to play just once.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon has often mentioned how tough his team’s schedule is, and it might be more difficult than those of Purdue and Michigan State. The record to date of teams the Terps have played twice is 23-18, with the combined record of 43-65 for those teams that have appeared once on the schedule.

The combined record of the teams the Wolverines have played twice so far is 18-35, while those they have played just once is 41-40. That could change over the last weeks with four games against Maryland and Michigan State. It could also tilt the regular-season title — and the top seed in next month’s Big Ten tournament in the direction of the Boilermakers.

A victory for the Terps on Saturday could certainly help Purdue’s cause, but it would also enhance Maryland’s chances of finishing in the top four to receive a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament in Chicago.

Junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. is not thinking about what a win today could do for Maryland’s confidence that had to mushroom after Tuesday night’s win over the Boilermakers, who had won eight straight going in.

“I don’t think we’re really looking at it like that,” Cowan said Friday in College Park. “I kind of think we’re just looking at it being the next game and go in there and get better.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
43°