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Michigan State looks to stay unbeaten in conference play against red-hot Maryland

The Spartans and Terrapins will put their winning streaks on the line when they clash in East Lansing on Monday night.

Michigan State v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Since its last loss back in November to Louisville, No. 6 Michigan State (16-2, 7-0 B1G) has emerged as one of the hottest teams in the country.

The Spartans, who’ve won their last 11 ballgames and 16 of the last 17 overall, have gone seven up and seven down to start their Big Ten conference slate.

With Wisconsin’s upset of Michigan on Saturday, MSU jumped into sole possession of first place in the conference standings, but will have another tall task Monday night against a percolating Maryland (16-3, 7-1 B1G) team.

The 19th-ranked Terrapins have really found a groove since their last loss to Seton Hall nearly a month ago. Maryland enters Monday’s contest having won its last seven ballgames, including two ranked wins against Nebraska and Indiana and a resounding road win against Ohio State.

While Kevin Huerter leaving early for the NBA hurt the Terps’ depth, there’s still no shortage of talent on Mark Turgeon’s roster. Turgeon has a dynamic three-headed monster in Anthony Cowan Jr., Bruno Fernando and former ESPN 100 recruit and five-star freshman Jalen Smith.

Cowan Jr. enters Monday’s game ranked sixth in the conference in scoring at 17.9 points per game. A Third Team All-Big Ten selection a year ago, the junior guard has upped his scoring average this year and has been red hot of late, finishing with 20 points in Maryland’s last win against Ohio State, which marked the fourth straight game Cowan Jr. has gone for 20 or more.

Fernando has established himself as one of the most efficient scorers in the country, with a league-leading 68 percent clip from the floor. After being named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team after a breakout season, Fernando is having whale of a sophomore season so far, averaging 14.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

The matchup to watch will be the battle of the bigs and the Big Ten’s two most efficient scorers down low. Fernando will check junior forward Nick Ward, who sits only behind Fernando in the Big Ten in field goal percentage. Ward’s 16.6 points per game are good for second on the team, but he’ll go up against one of the league's best defenders in the 6-foot-10 Fernando, whose 2.2 blocks per game rank second in the conference.

Michigan State v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Smith is part of a highly-lauded freshman class that’s accounted for 45 percent of the team’s total points. The McDonald’s All-American has been phenomenal in his first season, averaging 13 points and 6.9 rebounds per outing.

While he’s having a productive year, Smith isn’t the only freshman making a real impact. Maryland ranks 349th out 353 in KenPom’s experience metric, but its youngsters don’t play like an inexperienced group. Eric Ayala is second on the team in assists and leads the league in 3-point shooting percentage (48.4). Additionally, the Terps have started at least two freshmen in 10 games this season, while three freshmen average over 25 minutes a game and five average at least 10 minutes a game.

Michigan State will likely be shorthanded yet again Monday night. Joshua Langford has missed his last five games with an undisclosed foot injury while Kyle Ahrens has missed the last two due to a back injury. Head coach Tom Izzo said Ahrens is questionable for Monday’s game and didn’t give an update on Langford’s status.

Monday’s contest will mark just the 14th time these two programs will meet. The Spartans own the head-to-head series 8-5 and have won five of the last six meetings against the Terrapins. Tipoff is slated for 6:30 p.m. with Joe Davis and Steve Lavin on the call for FS1.