Playing some of its best basketball of the season, Maryland (15-10, 9-9 B1G) has an opportunity to extend its winning streak to six in Evanston. With a victory over Northwestern, the Terps would have a winning conference record for the first time this season.
“I think the reason we’re playing better is guys are more consistent now,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Across the board the guys that are playing have been pretty consistent, or five or six or them are playing well every night. That’s been the difference, consistency in practice and consistency in the games.”
Northwestern (7-14, 4-13 B1G) is coming off a 67-59 victory over Minnesota, the team’s first victory in nearly three months after losing 12 consecutive conference games. The Wildcats started off Big Ten play with three consecutive victories, but they’ve struggled mightily since then.
Chase Audige is Northwestern’s leading scorer averaging 12.1 points per game, one of four Wildcats that averages in double figures. The Wildcats are a well-balanced offensive team and don’t generally rely on one player to generate consistent offense.
Miller Kopp, the team’s second leading scorer is a prolific threat from behind the arc, shooting 37.9% from behind the arc, while Boo Buie is another talented guard in the backcourt. Pete Nance and Ryan Young are Northwestern’s low post threats, with Nance’s ability to stretch the floor and shoot from the outside as well.
Northwestern will look to solve Maryland’s defense, which has been phenomenal recently. Maryland’s defensive cohesiveness and communication has been excellent over the past month, holding opponents to under 60 points in seven out of the last ten contests.
Also, opponents are shooting 37% from the field in the Terps’ last 10 contests, the lowest total in the conference. On defense all five players have been on one accord, flying around the floor with exquisitely timed help defense and active hands in the passing lanes.
Over the course of Maryland’s five-game winning streak, both Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins have found a rhythm each averaging 17.2 points per game. Ayala has been attacking the basket consistently, absorbing contact and heading to the free throw line. Wiggins is playing with tremendous assertiveness attacking his individual matchups and converting on open three-point opportunities.
“It’s been really fun playing with Eric,” Wiggins said. “We talk about it all the time, when we’re going, it’s hard for other teams to stop us. It opens the court up for other guys as well, [Hakim Hart] has had really good games, [Darryl Morsell] was great last game. It’s been really good. We just know we’ve got to continue to stay aggressive and take good shots for our team.”
Also during that time, Hart has settled into his new role as the team’s point guard and primary ball handler. He’s scored in double-digits in back-to-back games, including several pivotal shots in the victory over Michigan State on Sunday. Hart’s continued emergence as the orchestrator of the offense is one of the biggest signs of the team’s evolution and increased efficiency in recent contests.
Resurgent performances from Donta Scott and Jairus Hamilton in the frontcourt is another sign of the team’s evolution. Look for both Scott and Hamilton to utilize their quick footwork for their size and attack individual matchups or thrive off the pick and roll. With no true low post presence on the team, Scott has developed into the team’s most physical and reliable rebounder down low.
Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.
“Right now as a team we’re taking it one day at a time, just focused on getting better everyday,” Morsell said. “Right now we’re just focused on Northwestern.”