The two surprise teams of the Big Ten, No. 21 Northwestern and Maryland, are near the top of the conference standings.
Both have wins at home this month over first place Purdue and barring a complete collapse will secure bids in the NCAA Tournament.
They will look to continue their strong seasons Sunday afternoon when the Wildcats (20-8, 11-6 Big Ten) visit the Terrapins (19-9, 10-7) in College Park, Md.
Both teams are coming off losing seasons. With a guarantee of its first winning record since 2016-17, the Wildcats have come the furthest. After being picked to finish 13th out of the 14 teams in the Big Ten preseason media poll, they stand alone in second place.
“We felt we had a great core of guys who were really invested in the program,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins told Yahoo Sports. “When everyone picked us to finish at the bottom of the league, I did think we had a chance to be better than people thought.”
The Terrapins, who were pegged for a 10th-place finish, entered the weekend tied for third place with the teams that were predicted to finish 1-2-3 in the league: Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.
Maryland has won seven of its last nine and is coming off an 88-70 victory at home over Minnesota on Wednesday. The Terrapins shot 68.1 percent from the floor and made 7 of 13 shots from beyond the arc (58.3 percent).
Julian Reese, Hakim Hart and Donta Scott scored 21, 20 and 18 points respectively and went a combined 22 of 28 from the floor.
The Terrapins have found scoring balance after depending so heavily on point guard Jahmir Young, who took just six shots against the Golden Gophers.
In each of Maryland’s first six Big Ten wins, all at home, Young was the Terps’ top scorer, averaging 23.3 points and 5.8 rebounds in those games.
With his playmaking and scoring, Hart has had a big role lately for the Terps. In the last five games, Hart is averaging 16.6 points after scoring at a 9.0 clip in January.
“It’s taken a lot of pressure off Jahmir,” Maryland coach Kevin Willard said. “Hak’s gotten very comfortable in the offense and very comfortable with what we’re asking him to do.”
Northwestern appeared on its way to its sixth straight win on Thursday night, leading at Illinois by 16 points with approximately 11 minutes left. But the Illini, after missing their first 11 tries from beyond the arc, rallied for a 66-62 win.
Boo Buie scored a career-high 35 points for the Wildcats but his mates in the starting five combined for just 14 points on 5-of-26 shooting.
“(Buie) had 13 points in the second half but we really couldn’t get anybody else going which made it hard for us,” Collins said.
Northwestern faces another tough road test on Sunday. Maryland has won all nine of its Big Ten games at home. This is the lone regular-season meeting of the teams which split last year, each winning on the other’s home floor.
–Field Level Media