When the Maryland Terrapins ended the regular season with a 85-61 loss to Michigan, it was apparent the team had just one option for an NCAA Tournament berth: win the Big Ten tournament.
The encouragement that surrounded Maryland following a two-game win streak came crashing down in the team’s Senior Day when it was blown out by the Wolverines. A team that looked like it was starting to figure itself out after losing seven out of 10 games now appears to have taken a step back.
As the No. 8 seed in the tournament, Maryland’s path to the championship will not be easy. It starts against No. 9 seed Wisconsin on Thursday, but the Terps’ biggest challenge is figuring out how to win away from home consistently.
Wisconsin (14-17, 7-11) enters the tournament after losing to Michigan State on its Senior Day. The Terps beat the Badgers earlier in the season — a 68-63 win in the Xfinity Center that snapped a three-game losing streak — with a combination of sophomores Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter, who combined for 42 points.
However, Maryland’s win came after the two teams had battled for the entire second half. It wasn’t until Cowan and Huerter scored the last eight points that the Terps secured the win.
If this game starts to resemble the one earlier in the season, it would not bode well for Maryland. The Terps have proven themselves to be a dominant team at home, but they haven’t had that same success away from the Xfinity Center. The team has played well enough to win, but critical mistakes in the second half have resulted in heartbreaking losses.
Fortunately for Maryland, Wisconsin has struggled on the road as well, with a 3-8 record in away games and 0-2 record in neutral sites. So, the Terps have a strong chance of advancing, but the game plan will have to involve containing the Badgers’ key players instead of outshooting them like they did in the previous matchup.
Redshirt junior Ethan Happ remains Wisconsin’s best option on offense and one of its best defenders. Happ averages nearly a double-double with 17.9 points per game and 8.2 rebounds. Since Wisconsin lost to Maryland, Happ has averaged nearly 20 points in his last six games.
Happ has scored double digits in all but two games this season, which means defending him will be one of the Terps’ top priorities. Maryland will likely rotate multiple players to defend Happ, but forwards Bruno Fernando and Michal Cekovsky should see most of the responsibility.
Wisconsin has other scorers as well; while Happ led the team with 18 points in the Feb. 4 matchup, the Badgers had three other players finish with at least 12 points.
The winner will advance to play No. 1 seed Michigan State on March 2. Tipoff against the Badgers will be at noon.
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