Terps Basketball: BTT Quarterfinal Opponent Preview
With Maryland earning the three-seed for this week’s Big Ten tournament, they won’t have to worry about taking the court until Friday evening at around 9:00 p.m. Eastern. And given their spot in the bracket, Maryland has three possible opponents.
Wednesday night 11-seed Ohio State and 14-seed Rutgers meet in the first round, with the winner advancing to face 6-seed Northwestern Thursday night. Those three teams are in far different positions entering the Big Ten tournament, beginning with Chris Collins’ Wildcat squad that will make history Sunday evening. Northwestern has never played in an NCAA tournament, but that will change after the Wildcats won 21 games and finished 10-8 in the Big Ten.
Ohio State, unless it wins the Big Ten tournament, will in all likelihood land in the NIT but a solid run in D.C. would at the very least help with their seeding in that event. As for Rutgers, Steve Pikiell’s first season “on the banks of the old Raritan” hasn’t produced a winning record but there have been tangible signs of growth. Many of their key players, including guards Corey Sanders and Mike Williams, will be back next season and they’ll look to close out the 2016-17 season on a positive note.
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Below are more thoughts on each of the three teams and how they’ve matched up with Maryland this season.
No. 14 Rutgers (14-17, 3-15)
While the Scarlet Knights once again finished the regular season in the Big Ten cellar, unlike their first two seasons in the conference there are reasons for hope. Steve Pikiell’s team has shown more fight in his first season at the helm, and clear leadership has emerged in the form of junior guard Mike Williams with sophomore guard Corey Sanders continuing to develop at the point. Last season, Rutgers lost 16 of the 19 games it played against Big Ten opponents by ten points or more; they’ve managed to cut that number in half in 2016-17.
Rutgers hasn’t been particularly good offensively in conference play, ranking last in many major statistical categories including efficiency, two-point and three-point percentage. But those misses have resulted in second-chance opportunities, with the Scarlet Knights leading the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage (35.6% in conference games). Deshawn Freeman and C.J. Gettys have been Rutgers’ best rebounders with Williams chipping in with 5.1 rebounds per night from the guard position.
Maryland won both meetings between the two teams, winning 67-55 in College Park on January 24 and 79-59 on February 28. Rutgers didn’t shoot well in either game, making just 33.9 percent of their shots in the first meeting and 41.4 percent in the second. But the Scarlet Knights did grab a total of 32 offensive rebounds in the two games, rebounding 40.5 percent of their misses in the January meeting and 42.9 percent in the rematch. Should Rutgers win two games to reach Friday, keeping the Scarlet Knights off of the offensive glass will be key for Maryland.
No. 11 Ohio State (17-14, 7-11)
After missing the NCAA tournament a season ago, the Buckeyes will miss out for a second consecutive year unless they get hot and win the Big Ten tournament. Junior forward Jae’Sean Tate leads the way offensively for a team with four double-digit scorers, averaging 14.2 points per game, and despite turning the ball over on nearly 19 percent of its possessions in conference play Ohio State has been solid offensively.
Marc Loving and Trevor Thompson are also solid options for the Buckeyes to call upon, making them a tough cover for opposing teams. JaQuan Lyle runs the show at the point, but it should be noted that sophomore guard C.J. Jackson has scored 18 points in two of Ohio State’s last three games.
The issue has been the defense, with the Buckeyes ranking 13th in the conference in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play. They haven’t done a particularly good job of defending opponents either inside or outside of the arc, and they also have the Big Ten’s worst defensive free throw rate (45.6). Ohio State will be favored to beat Rutgers, but if they’re to do any damage beyond that the Buckeyes will have to do a better job of putting together stops. As was the case with Rutgers, Maryland swept the season series with Ohio State.
In the Terps’ 77-71 win on January 31, Maryland shot 49.1 percent from the field and made ten three-pointers while also rebounding nearly 40 percent of its missed shots. In the second meeting, an 86-77 win in College Park on February 11, Ohio State did a better job on the boards but Maryland made 12 three-pointers and scored 20 points at the foul line. Combining the points scored from three and the charity stripe, Maryland outscored Ohio State 56-39. Ohio State has shown throughout Big Ten play that it will send opponents to the foul line, so if Maryland is disciplined offensively and doesn’t settle for poor shots this is a matchup that works in their favor.
No. 6 Northwestern (21-10, 10-8)
The Wildcats are one of the best stories in college basketball this season, as their quest for that elusive first-ever NCAA tournament bid will be a successful one. That being said, since the 7-2 start to conference play Northwestern has lost six of its last nine games. Including in that stretch are two losses to Illinois and one to Indiana, with Purdue (twice) and Maryland responsible for the other three defeats.
Northwestern was without leading scorer Scottie Lindsey for four of those games, and with him back in the fold the Wildcats are a tougher team for opposing defenses to deal with. Bryant McIntosh has been very good at the point, and players such as Vic Law and Dererk Pardon have been key contributors as well. Northwestern hasn’t been a great shooting team, and they tend to rely on jump shots a bit too much at times, but they don’t turn the ball over and when they do get to the foul line the Wildcats are shooting 75 percent.
Interestingly enough, Northwestern attempted 23 free throws in their 74-64 loss to Maryland on February 15 but they only made 13. The Terps defended well that night, limiting the Wildcats to 5-for-22 shooting from three and 48.6 percent from two. It should be noted that Lindsey didn’t play in that game, and Law and McIntosh combined to shoot 7-for-25 from the field. Lindsey would require more from the likes of Kevin Huerter defensively, and would also in help Law and McIntosh find quality looks.
While each of these teams offers up challenges for Maryland, the Terps went 5-0 against them this season and are well-equipped to take care of business regardless of the opponent. The key now is to maintain attention to detail, limiting turnovers and taking care of the defensive backboard. Do that, and Maryland can make a run in D.C.