Maryland hopes to keep hot start going vs. fading Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS -- Neither the Maryland Terrapins or Minnesota Gopher men's basketball teams knew quite what to expect coming into this season. Both teams were hopeful an influx of new talent would lead to a strong Big Ten season and an NCAA tournament appearance.
For Maryland, it was building on the Sweet 16 appearance from last year and replacing four starters. Three freshmen would be counted on to complement junior Melo Trimble after he spurned the NBA for another year with the Terrapins.
Minnesota was trying to rebuild the program after one of the worst seasons in school history at 8-23. The Gophers looked to two freshmen and two transfers to bolster the lineup alongside improving sophomores and junior point guard Nate Mason.
Each team has been pleased with the additions as they meet Saturday in Minnesota. But the Gophers have faded a bit in Big Ten play while No. 22 Maryland is off to its best start in 18 years.
"I don't think any of us expected this, to be 18-2 and 6-1," Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon told the Washington Post. "The exciting thing for me is that we can play so much better. We can play better then we're playing; starting with rebounding and taking care of the ball."
Maryland (18-2, 6-1 Big Ten) is tied with No. 15 Wisconsin at the top of the conference. Since losing to Nebraska at home, The Terrapins have rolled off five straight wins, including at Michigan, Illinois and Iowa. Trimble scored 17 points as Maryland beat Rutgers 67-55 on Tuesday.
The 18-2 start is the school's best since the 1998-99 team led by Steve Francis.
"Uh, Steve Francis, I don't really remember that year," the 21-year-old Trimble told the Post, with a laugh. "It's a good start. Our biggest thing is just keep getting better."
Trimble is averaging a team-high 17.4 points per game. Freshmen Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson have combined to average 29.2 points and 15.1 rebounds per game.
"I think we're getting better at not taking plays off," Huerter told the Post. "I think at the beginning of the year, we would make runs and we would look really good for a stretch. And then we would look really, really bad for a stretch. So I think we're getting better at putting together a full 40 minutes."
Inability to play a full 40 minutes has hurt the Gophers (15-6, 3-5) lately, as end-of-game offensive droughts have ended in back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin. Minnesota has lost four in a row after a 15-2 start.
But Gophers coach Richard Pitino is trying to lift up his team, which is still possibly in line for its first NCAA tournament berth since 2012-13. Minnesota is 21st in the NCAA Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).
"After 21 games and eight league games, 75 percent of the league would trade resumes with us," Pitino told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "And we've played five road (Big Ten) games and one of the toughest schedules in the league. So, yes, we're on a four-game losing streak; but if you step back and see the big picture, I think we're in pretty good shape."
Freshman Amir Coffey is second on the team with 12.2 points per game behind Mason's 14.0. Transfer Akeem Springs has started two straight games and has totaled 33 points in those games. Transfer center Reggie Lynch is averaging 8.4 points per game and is fifth in the NCAA with 3.0 blocks per game.
"We shouldn't be down, but we should be concerned with the four-game losing streak," Lynch told the Pioneer Press. "(Coach Pitino) just wanted to relay to us that we shouldn't be too down and we should stay confident, because there are a lot of teams in our conference that would trade resumes with us.
"Even though we're on a four-game losing streak, we're still in very good shape. A quick turnaround, like getting a win Saturday, could easily affect that in a good way."
Updated January 27, 2017