Maryland’s Big Ten lead is gone after Terrapins lose to Rutgers and Michigan State rallies vs. Penn State

Two weeks ago, Maryland had a three-game lead in the Big Ten after taking down Michigan State in a result that seemed to affirm the belief that this year was going to be a special one. But ever since then the hard-charging Terrapins have started to slide back while Sparty has caught fire, and after a busy Tuesday in the Big Ten the two teams are now tied for first place in the conference standings with one game left to play in the regular season. 

Fears of a lingering impact from Maryland’s home loss to Michigan State on Saturday were proven to be prescient in the early frames of Tuesday night’s 78-67 loss at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights led for nearly the entire game (Maryland’s only lead was at 4-2) and while a late push nearly cut the lead to 10 there was never a doubt about Steve Pikiell’s team concluding an epic season at home with its biggest win of the year. 

Rutgers has clinched the most home wins in school history and the most conference wins (10) since 1991, the last time the program was selected for the NCAA Tournament. There’s no guarantee that the win will push Rutgers over the bubble and into the field of 68, as CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm notes that the profile is lacking for quality wins away from home, but adding Maryland to a list of wins that also includes Seton Hall, Penn State and Wisconsin will certainly help the Scarlet Knights’ case on Selection Sunday. 

Maryland, on the other hand, has now lost three of its last four games and needed frantic comeback at Minnesota to get its lone victory in that stretch. None of the losses have been particularly glaring on paper, but the trend is concerning for the hope that this season of conference and perhaps national championship contention might end with some hardware for the program’s trophy case. 

The Terps still have a chance to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten regular season championship with a win next week against Michigan at home on Sunday, but in the big picture getting right and reversing the skid heading into the postseason is as important as claiming a share of that regular season crown. 

Maryland will remain a No. 2 seed, Palm said.

Michigan State will also be at home on Sunday with a chance to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten regular season championship, welcoming Ohio State for the lone regular season meeting between the squads. The Spartans have won four straight games since that home loss to Maryland on Feb. 15, staging a furious second rally to beat Penn State 79-71 on the road on Tuesday night. 

Three of the four wins in this streak have come on the road and three have been against ranked opponents, and it’s starting to look like Tom Izzo’s team has started to figure out the keys to making winning plays in the second half of close games. Against Penn State the Spartans trailed by 15 at halftime only to open with a massive 13-2 run in the second half and win by eight points. That’s exactly what Izzo was looking for in a season where seven of the team’s nine losses have been in games that Michigan State was in but failed to capitalize in the game’s crucial moments. 

So after the starting the year as the preseason No. 1 and then falling from the top 25, Michigan State is back with a chance to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten regular season crown at home, in the Breslin Center, on Cassius Winston’s senior night. New year, same story: it’s March, and things are just coming up Sparty.  

Michigan State will remain a No. 4 seed, but the loss is expected to drop Penn State from a No. 4 seed to a No. 5, Palm said.

Now it’s not just a two-team race, with both Illinois and Wisconsin tied in the loss column with two games left to play. The Illini play Ohio State on Thursday night on the road and Iowa at home on Sunday to close the season and the Badgers have Northwestern at home on Wednesday before closing the regular season at Indiana on Saturday. Both teams need two wins to earn a share of the championship or a loss from both Maryland and Michigan State to make 13-7 a winning record for this grinder of a year in the Big Ten. 

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