Big Ten

After terrific defensive effort vs. Spartans, Terps feel they're 'back'

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After terrific defensive effort vs. Spartans, Terps feel they're 'back'

INDIANAPOLIS — Maryland won't be playing for a conference tournament championship, which has to be disappointing for a team pegged in the preseason as one of the country's best.

But despite a tough loss in a grueling Big Ten Tournament semifinal game against Michigan State on Saturday, the Terps feel they learned plenty, feel they accomplished plenty, as the NCAA tournament looms.

"The effort we put out there today, coach and our coaching staff had a great game plan for us and our guys fought hard. Like coach said, one or two plays it might be a different outcome. But it just wasn't meant to be," Maryland guard Rasheed Sulaimon said after the game. "But Michigan State, all credit goes to them. They're one of the best teams in the country, and I think we proved today that playing at a high level and playing with a lot of effort, we can compete at a very high level. So it's heartbreaking. But at the same time, I think we're going to try to bounce back and head into the tournament strong."

Sulaimon and teammate Robert Carter didn't have the look of players who just had their hearts broken. In fact, they sounded confident, an odd emotion to witness after such a slugfest of a loss, but one that showed that the Terps still have their eyes on college basketball's ultimate prize.

"Just like Rasheed just said, (we learned) that we're one of the best teams in the country," Carter said. "We battled. Had a chance to win versus another great team. So we just learned that we're back and we can compete with anybody, and it's going to be a fun NCAA tournament."

[MORE BIG TEN: Spartans outlast Terps in slugfest for trip to Big Ten Tournament title game]

Being "back" is a big deal for a team that was supposed to roll through a lot of teams this season. Obviously the Big Ten is one of the toughest conferences around, and no one expected that the Terps wouldn't have their share of defeats. But Maryland's end of the regular season was anything but what was expected. The Terps lost four times in their last six regular-season contests, and that stretch was extended to five losses in their last eight games with a 1-1 showing this weekend in Indy.

Things got away from Maryland during that stretch, as a team that finished in the top three in the conference in defense allowed a lot of points at the end of the year. Four times in the last six games, Maryland allowed at least 80 points to its opponent. That includes 86 points to Nebraska in Friday's Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal win.

Saturday, things were completely different. Maryland locked down a high-powered Michigan State team, holding the Spartans to 28.6-percent shooting and just 23 points in the second half. Denzel Valentine, who still scored 19 points in the game and is one of the top candidates for national player of the year honors, was just 4-for-12 from the field and didn't make his first shot until right before the first-half buzzer. The most impressive job, though, was on Bryn Forbes, who scored just four points. The sharpshooter was 0-for-4 from 3-point range and was locked down to a degree that his own team rarely bothered passing to him, almost seeming like it forget he was on the floor.

Forbes has been dangerous all season long — an All-Big Ten Second Team selection — and without his production, Michigan State was stagnant offensively, making just two baskets the final 11 and a half minutes of the game.

"They have a lot of great players, especially Forbes and Valentine. And we knew for us to stay in the game, we were going to have to limit Forbes' 3s. It means more to them when he makes shots, really gets their bench into it and their team going," Sulaimon said. "And our coaching staff, they came up with an outstanding game plan, and I'm just proud of our guys and how hard we worked. Michigan State is a great team. They run their sets hard. They set a lot of great screens, and we just wheeled through it and just tried to run them off the line and get to his legs. With a good shooter like that, you try to get into his legs. And, fortunately, he didn't light himself on 3 like he did the first game and it gave us a chance."

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Terps gear right here]

Unfortunately for Maryland, it still has some things to clean up, as well. Michigan State's defense was just as good, holding the Terps to just one basket and eight points the final 10 and a half minutes of the game. Melo Trimble, supposed to be one of the best players in America when the season began, exhibited his season-long struggles with his shot in Saturday's game, going just 2-for-15 from the field. Sulaimon was 3-for-10 from the field. Jake Layman was 2-for-8.

The Terps, though, seemed to feel that the offense would be there. After all, Maryland was a top-five scoring team in the Big Ten this season and scored 80 points in 13 of its games, including three times in its last six games. Its 97 points against Nebraska were a Big Ten Tournament record.

In general, Maryland was exuding positivity after its loss Saturday. The expectations for this team have been so high all season long, and though Saturday was another loss, the Terps said that they felt good with what they did in Indy and that this weekend's performance and experience will only help moving onto the Big Dance.

"It's huge. When the expectations are so high and you're 25-8, you've got 25 wins and it's not good enough, sometimes it puts young men in not a good place. So we had a lot of fun this week in practice. We played games. We did a lot of different things just to try to get to relax. 'Hey, regular season is over. Let's go play.' So we did a lot of mind things that really made them better. And we worked a lot on defense. Didn't show up last night (against Nebraska). Showed up today.

"There's no question, coaching staff, players, everybody involved in Maryland basketball feels really good. Feels better than we did coming into this tournament. We wanted momentum. We wanted to beat Michigan State. We couldn't do it today. Maybe if we get them again in a couple weeks, we'll be good enough to beat them, but today we weren't. But we feel good about ourselves."

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?