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Gophers host Maryland in another must-win scenario

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Big Ten’s top team comes to town in dire circumstances

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers staved off regular season elimination on Sunday by going on the road and eviscerating the Northwestern Wildcats. On paper it wasn’t a surprise that Minnesota was favored — after all, the Wildcats were on a huge losing streak and sitting in the basement of the conference. But after a couple lifeless performances against Iowa and Indiana you would forgive the fanbase for being a bit skeptical that Minnesota could actually muster up the energy to go on the road and take the first step in salvaging its season. Consider the first test passed

If Northwestern was the intro class, then the next game against Maryland is Masters’s level. The Terrapins are no joke. They’ve won 10 of their last 11 games and are in first place in the conference. The Gophers, meanwhile, are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, desperately attempting to get back on the right side of the bubble by ripping off a few key wins to end the regular season.

A win over Maryland would vault them back into the discussion of being considered for the NCAA Tournament, but it’s perhaps the hardest opponent they will face down the stretch as they attempt to fight back into relevancy. It’s a must-win in the worst way.

Essentials:

Opponent:

Maryland Terrapins (12-4, 22-5)

Date and Time:

Wednesday, Feb. 26 @ 8 p.m. CT

Location:

Williams Arena

TV:

BTN

Radio:

KFAN 100.3-FM

Tell me more about the opponent.

From Northwestern to Maryland; talk about whiplash. The Gophers will be tested by a staunch Maryland defense that is ranked 10th in the nation according to KenPom and who is giving up just 63 points per game. Maryland is anchored by upper classmen, which is no surprise considering their steady play all season. Anthony Cowan just might be the best guard in the league and forward Jalen Smith might low-key be the conference’s best player. This is not a duo to mess with.

Three Maryland players average double figures, led by Cowan’s 16.4 points per game along with a team-best 4.6 assists per game. Smith is averaging a double-double of 15.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game and leads the conference with 17 double-doubles. He should give Daniel Oturu some trouble down low. Finally, the Terps are highly disciplined on defense, and they average just 14.9 personal fouls per game, the fewest in the Big Ten and 18th fewest nationally.

Still, this is a team that doesn’t do any one thing super well, and they have middling stats in almost every category you can think of. They are a beatable opponent.

Predictions

Here we go. If not now, then it’s never. Will the Gophers rise to the occasion when everything is on the line? They didn’t do it against Iowa and they didn’t do it against Indiana. Can they do it against the top team in the conference?

Amazingly Minnesota is favored by a point at home. KenPom basically has this as a toss up. I’m feeling optimistic. Gophers by 2.