With the Big Ten schedule needing to be truncated due to the conference tournament being played a week earlier, teams are hungry for wins as the conference only has four solid teams headed for the NCAA Tournament. The bubble for the tournament is starting to shape and three Big Ten teams find themselves on it.
The first team is Nebraska, which have played excellent basketball as of late. The other two teams are Maryland and Penn State, which play each other tonight in the Bryce Jordan Center at 6:30 p.m. The game is a rematch from January 2, where the Terrapins won 75-69 in College Park.
The teams have gone in opposite directions since the game as Penn State has surged to sixth in the conference, winning three of its last four. Maryland has lost five of its last seven, but the Terrapins have played four of the top five teams in that span.
The match-ups on the floor are intriguing as both teams are led by their dynamic sophomore point guards. Tony Carr has been one of the conference’s best guards as he is second in the conference in scoring and fifth in assists. His ability to use his 6’5″ frame over smaller defenders to get his shot off has made him dominant. He shoots 41.5 percent from the field and 45.1 percent from behind the arc.
Anthony Cowan also leads his team in scoring at 16.2 points per game, but he uses his lightning quickness to penetrate the defense from the top of the key. His ability to breakdown the defense allows for fellow sophomore Kevin Huerter to shoot from the outside or attack the rim on a back cut.
Huerter’s presence on the outside means that Josh Reaves will most likely draw the assignment as he has the length to disturb the shot of the 6’7″ swingman. Reaves leads the conference in steals with 48 and his quick hands make life difficult for opposing perimeter players.
The play of Reaves on the defensive end will allow senior Shep Garner some room. He will be looking to shoot better than he did when the teams first played as he went 1-5 from behind the arc. Garner has been one of the Big Ten’s top shooters as he is second in made 3-pointers with 71 at a 41.5 percent clip. If the Nittany Lions want to beat the Terrapins, they need Garner to convert from behind the arc in order to stretch out the defense.
While the battle on the perimeter might be the most intriguing, the post battle between Mike Watkins and Bruno Fernando is the most important as Maryland’s freshman big man controlled the paint en rout to his first career double-double. Watkins has been one of the conference’s top big men throughout the conference season and needs to dominate the post against Maryland.
The one problem for head coach Patrick Chambers is the lack of depth in the front court as the team struggles when Watkins leaves the lineup. Maryland has to get Watkins in foul trouble early because Julian Moore has not proved himself to be a good backup.
The Nittany Lions have played better lately and are making a run to a top seven finish in the Big Ten. They will continue winning as Penn State will knock off Maryland at home.