A few days before, the Terrapins hosted Minnesota, again in search of a second win. This time, three weeks stood between the matchups, so the teams had time to learn from the previous meeting. The Golden Gophers could have avenged their only home loss, but with another strong defensive effort, the Terps replicated their success from the first game, earning the first of three straight Big Ten wins.
During the 20-game conference schedule, each Big Ten team faces six opponents once and seven teams twice. Those home-and-home series can measure how well a squad adjusts and responds.
“Nothing is ever easy in the Big Ten,” sophomore Donta Scott said the day before the Terps lost at home to Wisconsin in January, a team they had upset on the road a month before. “Everybody knows it’s hard to beat a team two times in a row.”
Since the conference expanded in 2014, Michigan State and Purdue are the only Big Ten teams that have won both regular season games against the same opponent more than 50 percent of the time. Maryland performs above average in these home-and-home matchups. The Terps sweep opponents 46 percent of the time, the fourth-best mark in the conference. When the Terps lose the first game against a team, they have managed to win the second 50 percent of the time.
All teams struggle to win the rematch of a game they previously lost at home. Since Coach Mark Turgeon took over the program in 2011, Maryland has lost only six times when the first game in a series is at home (and only twice since joining the Big Ten). But in those circumstances, Turgeon’s team has never won the road contest later in the season.
Maryland could buck that trend Sunday with a trip to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights (12-8, 8-8 Big Ten) defeated the Terps, 74-60, in their conference opener more than two months ago in College Park. Now Maryland (13-10, 7-9) will play the rematch in Piscataway, N.J., with its NCAA tournament future hinging on the team’s performance during the next few weeks.
The outcome of the second game in these series assesses how well a team responds from the first meeting. But the location of the games plays a significant role. For Big Ten teams since 2014-15, roughly 62 percent of regular season series are sweeps. When teams split a series, the home team wins each game about 4.5 times more often than vice versa.
“As coaches, we’re all macho, and we like to say, ‘Well, we’re going to have a team that no matter where we play or when we play them, we’re going to be able to be good enough to beat them,’” said John Beilein, the former Michigan coach who now works as an analyst for the Big Ten Network. “But you’ve got to be realistic that, [if] you open up your Big Ten schedule and you’re on the road at Purdue, even if they’re in a rebuilding year, it’s not going to be an easy win.”
Since the Big Ten expanded, Purdue and Wisconsin have avoided a pair of losses against the same team more often than any other program, with both teams being swept only about 11 percent of the time. Meanwhile, Nebraska and Rutgers lose twice in home-and-home series more than half the time, but that’s also a product of their stature in the conference rather than an indictment on their ability to improve through the season. Minnesota has the most trouble collecting a pair of victories. The Gophers have won the first game 10 times but have lost the second on all but two occasions.
Wisconsin also has been the conference’s best team when it comes to turning a loss in the first game into a win the second time. In the past seven seasons, the Badgers have lost the first game 16 times but have gone on to win the second in 12 of those series.
“It’s a grind,” Wisconsin senior Brad Davison said. “Constantly, you’ve got to continue to add new things. You’ve got to continue to really take care of your bodies. … Everyone knows the scout on everybody. But ultimately, it’s going to be who performs better and who’s the most fresh going out there.”
Wisconsin players who have been with the program for four seasons hadn’t been swept since their freshman season before this week, when Michigan beat the Badgers for a second time.
Teams cannot remain stagnant if they want to succeed during the final stretch of the season, particularly in conference play, where the teams are thoroughly familiar with their opponents. After every game, Beilein’s staff compiled relevant clips and “next-time-around” notes, with key pieces of information meant to prepare the Wolverines for a future meeting. (Of the 20 times Michigan lost the first game in a series during the past decade, it won the second game 13 times. Coach Juwan Howard, who took over the program last season, is responsible for one of those turnarounds and two of the series that ended with a pair of losses.)
Teams with versatile game plans often prevail down the stretch, Beilein said, pointing out Michigan State. So do programs that prioritize player development all season. Teams that harp on growth after a loss tend to improve in that second meeting. All of those pieces, along with the location of the games, matter. But so does the mentality of the players. After a road win, Beilein said it took only about 10 minutes for him to start thinking about whether his players would be ready for the next meeting.
“This is the life of a coach,” Beilein said. “I don’t think I’m alone.”
That type of attitude has worked in Beilein’s favor — the “revenge factor” he calls it, adding that it can be a powerful force if the team has a strong culture of togetherness. After Michigan lost at Illinois in January 2017, an Illini player called the Wolverines a “white-collar team,” which the players interpreted as a jab at their toughness. So 10 days later, the Wolverines wore their blue road jerseys at home and turned a 16-point loss into a nine-point win.
“That’s obviously not about development,” Beilein said, with a laugh. “That’s being in an environment, but our guys were fired up in that game.”