COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WJZ) — Following a 67-60 win over Michigan State on Saturday that extended their winning streak to eight games, Mark Turgeon’s Maryland Terrapins moved up two spots to number seven in the latest AP Top 25 poll.
The Terps have six games left on their schedule before the Big Ten Tournament, and they hold a one-game lead over the surprising Penn State Nittany Lions in the race for the regular-season crown. But, while a conference title would be a nice addition to the trophy case, the team and its fans have their sights set slightly higher. They’re hoping to make the trip to Atlanta for the Final Four for the first time since ’01-’02 when Gary Williams earned the program’s lone national title.
This year’s team is led by the dynamic outside-inside duo of Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith, but CBS Sports Network insider Jon Rothstein says there’s another player who will be the key in unlocking a potential trip to ATL.
“They’re dynamic at point guard, dynamic at center. The X-factor for this team is going to be Aaron Wiggins,” said Rothstein on Friday. “Maryland is 12-3 this season going into Saturday’s game against Michigan State when Wiggins scores in double-figures. If he is a consistent 15-point-per-game guy, they can go to a Final Four.”
While Wiggins didn’t eclipse the double-digit point mark against the Spartans, the Terps were able to survive. But, that 12-3 record when he does is hard to ignore. To that end, the team is still waiting for Wiggins to find his shooting form from last season, when he stroked 41% from three on nearly 4.5 attempts per game. His marksmanship is significantly lower this season, hitting just 31% of his tries while attempting nearly a full shot more (5.3) per game.
He’s not the only player that fans are hoping can find last year’s stroke. Fellow sophomore Eric Ayala has hit just 25.9% of his three point attempts down from 40.6% in his freshman campaign. Both players have maintained solid percentages from the free throw line (72.7% for Ayala, 75% for Wiggins) indicating that their form is still there. The shots just haven’t been falling. For Rothstein, that’s an indicator that this team has the potential to continue to improve well into March.
“They’re not even close to reaching their ceiling,” said Rothstein.
If either guy can start getting shots to fall, the Terps present a tough out in the Tournament. They already rank in the top 5 of defensive efficiency according to Ken Pom, and they are top 40 on the offensive side despite the shooting struggles. With the Northwestern Wildcats coming to town tonight prior to a road date with Ohio State this weekend on CBS, the team has entered the stretch run, hoping to reach heights previously seen just twice before in program history.