Road Wins Pay Off for Maryland
The lessons learned in the aftermath of the NCAA tournament bracket reveal shift from year to year; while there isn’t a high amount of turnover on the selection committee annually, the points of emphasis can change some when it comes to why teams get into the field and their seeds. In the case of Maryland, it’s clear that Mark Turgeon’s team was rewarded for its play away from College Park when looking at their seed.
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The Terps, part of the final pairing announced Sunday night, are the 6-seed in the West and will face 11-seed Xavier Thursday night in Orlando at 6:50 p.m. Eastern. (If the wait was an anxious one for Maryland, imagine how the Musketeers felt) Of course this game could be named the “Dez Wells Classic,” given the fact that he began his career at Xavier before finishing up at Maryland, and the bookmakers expect it to be a close one. According to OddsShark, Maryland opened as a 1.5-point favorite with the line move to two points as of Monday morning.
How the Big Ten was seeded in this year’s bracket was a bit interesting to say the least, with Wisconsin landing on the eight line and Michigan headed for that spot had they not defeated the Badgers in the Big Ten title game. Purdue, a 4-seed, and Minnesota (a 5-seed) are the two highest-seeded teams, with Maryland next in line. And with a 12-3 road/neutral record — which included four wins over teams in this year’s field — the Terps landed on a line higher than what many expected. According to BracketMatrix, which compiles the numbers from numerous mock brackets, Maryland was expected to be a 7-seed by many “bracketologists.”
Now in the tournament for a third consecutive season, Turgeon and the Terps turn their attention to a four-team bracket that includes 3-seed Florida State and 14-seed FGCU, with the latter dunking even more than the “Dunk City” squad that reached the Sweet 16 in 2013.
First things first, Maryland will have to deal with a rugged Xavier squad that went 3-7 in its final ten games. That slump coincided with the loss of sophomore point guard Edmond Sumner, who suffered a torn ACL in late January. Yet even without their best playmaker, the Musketeers have some talented options that Maryland will need to account for in order to advance.
At the top of the list is 6-foot-6 junior wing Trevon Bluiett, who’s leading the Musketeers in scoring with an average of 18.1 points per night while also being second on the team in rebounding (5.8 rpg). 6-foot-5 junior guard J.P. Macura’s averaging 14.3 points per contest, with 6-foot-9 senior forward RaShid Gaston averaging 8.1 points and a team-best 6.4 rebounds per game. What does Chris Mack’s team do best offensively? Rebound and get to the foul line, as they’re 26th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (35.2 percent) and 39th in free throw rate (41.2). The Musketeers aren’t a great foul shooting team, making 68.6 percent of their attempts, but they average 16.3 made free throws per game to opponents’ 13.5.
Xavier’s shooting 52.0 percent from two and 33.7 percent from three on the season, with the latter number not being all that impressive. But this team’s work on the glass at both ends, with it being a collective effort as opposed to having one “elite” rebounder, is what Maryland will need to account for Thursday night. Obviously guys such as Trimble, Cowan, Huerter and Jackson will lead the way for the Terps, but this is a game where Damonte Dodd, Ivan Bender and L.G. Gill will need to show up as well. If that trio can meet the challenge that Xavier will present physically, that bodes well for the Terps.
From a résumé standpoint the Musketeers have good numbers across the board — at least the numbers that the selection committee tends to focus on — as they’re 37th in the RPI (11th in non-conference RPI) with a strength of schedule that ranks 13th (20th non-conference SOS). Xavier played 13 games against Top 50 competition, winning four of those games. Xavier, which suffered its first loss of the season at Baylor in early December, beat Wake Forest at home in what is the team’s best non-conference victory. In Big East play the Musketeers picked up wins over Providence and Creighton, but their most important result came in the Big East quarterfinals against Butler.
Prior to that victory the Musketeers had not defeated a conference foe outside of DePaul since February 4 (Creighton). Xavier needed a quality win to show the committee that post-Sumner it was capable of beating an NCAA tournament opponent, and the win over the Bulldogs did just that.
Thursday’s game sets up to be an entertaining one, and it may ultimately be decided on the glass. As mentioned above Xavier’s a good, aggressive rebounding team, and finishing defensive possessions with a rebound has been an issue at times for Maryland. Xavier isn’t a prolific shooting team, but they can “even things up” by creating extra opportunities.