COLLEGE PARK -- On Tuesday, Maryland was eliminated from Big Ten regular-season title contention when Indiana beat Iowa.
But on Thursday with a blowout 81-55 victory over Illinois, the Terrapins assured themselves of the most important thing outside of a title with the Big Ten tournament less than a week away -- a double bye. Maryland will now be at least the No. 4 seed in Indianapolis and begin play on March 11.
Three victories there and Maryland is a champion.
“It would have been hard to win four games in four days,” head coach Mark Turgeon said after the win, making note of the road ahead were they not to have clinched the double bye.
“It’s two years in a row, double bye. It’s hard to do. Really proud of the guys.”
The depth of Turgeon’s team has been tested throughout the season, beginning with the injury to sophomore guard Dion Wiley in the preseason. That has put a heavier minutes load on guard Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon, especially as Jared Nickens slipped into a midseason slump and Jaylen Brantley took time to acclimate himself to this level of college basketball.
But now Maryland has had an opportunity to rest.
If Turgeon’s small-ball adjustment sticks, they might have unlocked the real potential of this offense. Fresh legs and an important adjustment, plus one less round to play against a pesky lower seed, puts them in the best possible spot to make a run in the Big Ten tournament.
Get a few wins there and it could mean an NCAA tournament seed trending in the opposite direction from where it has been of late and that could set up for a run in March. That’s the hope, at least.