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Terps Basketball: Previewing The Emerald Coast Classic

With the holiday season beginning on Thursday, this tends to be a busy period of the season for many college basketball teams. That’s no different for the Maryland Terrapins, who begin a stretch of three games in four days Friday night at the Emerald Coast Classic in Destin, Florida. Friday’s semifinal matchup with St. Bonaventure will be followed by a matchup with either TCU or New Mexico on Saturday, and things won’t get any easier for Mark Turgeon’s team once the tournament ends either.

After playing those two games it’s off to central New York, as Maryland visits Syracuse Monday night as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Why that game couldn’t be part of the schedule for either Tuesday or Wednesday is beyond me (besides the demands of television partners, of course), but Maryland will be visiting a team that will have last played on Wednesday as Syracuse beat Toledo at the Carrier Dome. Not only will the game be a challenge given Syracuse’s 5-0 start to the season, but Maryland will now also be dealing with the issues that can come with playing three games in four days with a flight thrown in for good measure. While teams play multiple games in a short period in March, that travel dynamic is a bit different.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

But enough about the travel; let’s take a look at the three teams Maryland will join in Florida as the program looks to win an in-season tournament title for the fifth consecutive season. 

St. Bonaventure enters Friday’s game with a 2-1 record, with the defeat being a two-point loss to Big 4 rival Niagara in the season opener. That was followed by comfortable wins over Jackson State and Maryland-Eastern Shore in the on-campus games portion of the Emerald Coast Classic. Mark Schmidt has a team that plays freely on the offensive end of the floor, and with an average of 81.0 points per game the Bonnies are more than capable of making teams pay for defensive mistakes. But it should be noted that St. Bonaventure has done this damage without its best player in senior guard Jaylen Adams.

Adams, one of the preseason favorites to win Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, has been out of the lineup due to injury and no timetable has been given with regards to his return to the court. Last season the 6-foot-1 senior averaged 20.6 points, 6.5 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game as he helped lead the Bonnies to 20 wins and a Postseason NIT berth. While the shooting percentages, 41.9 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from three, weren’t great Adams was one of two guards given the freedom to do whatever they felt necessary on the offensive end of the floor.

The other guard granted that freedom: fellow senior Matt Mobley, who like Adams was preseason first team All-Atlantic 10 selection. The 6-foot-3 Mobley, who began his career at Central Connecticut State, averaged 18.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game in his first season on the court for St. Bonaventure. And with Adams out of the lineup he’s been asked to do even more offensively, pumping in 25.0 points per game while also grabbing 5.3 rebounds and dishing out 5.3 assists per game in the Bonnies’ first three games.

Mobley’s also averaging four turnovers per contest, but with even more playmaking responsibility heaped upon his shoulders due to Adams’ absence that number is not a major surprise. To keep a player of Mobley’s caliber in check, Maryland will have to make him uncomfortable and force rushed decisions with the basketball. Playing with pace is of no concern to Mobley and the Bonnies, but if they can be made to play recklessly that would be to Maryland’s benefit.

Without Adams freshman wing Tshiefu Ngalakulondi and junior guard Nelson Caputo have picked up the slack, with Ngalakulondi averaging 11.5 points per game and Caputo at 11.0. Caputo (2.7 apg) and senior Idris Taqqee (2.3 apg) are second and third on the team in assists, with freshman guard Izaiah Brockington being a solid contributor (7.0 ppg, 1.7 apg) being a solid contributor off the bench as well.

The question mark for St. Bonaventure entering the season was the team’s front court, as leading rebounder Denzel Gregg (7.7 rpg) completed his eligibility. In addition to the aforementioned Mobley and Taqqee (6.3 rpg), junior forward LaDarien Griffin (7.0 rpg) and sophomore forward Josh Ayeni (4.3 rpg) have chipped in on the boards. St. Bonaventure has held its own on the glass this season, with Ken Pomeroy’s numbers having them ranked 102nd in offensive rebounding percentage (32.4 percent) and 152nd in defensive rebounding percentage (71.7 percent).

Maryland has been a better rebounding team by the percentages, but if there’s an area of concern in this game (besides defending Mobley) it would have to be the turnovers.  Maryland has turned the ball over on 22.8 percent of its possessions, and in St. Bonaventure the Terps will face a team that can get after you defensively. St. Bonaventure has forced a turnover on 23.7 percent of its defensive possessions this season, and last year that number was at 20.9 percent.

With Darryl Morsell (who’s questionable due to a hamstring strain suffered against Jackson State), Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson all averaging more than two turnovers per game this is a dangerous matchup for Maryland in that regard. Valuing the basketball is always of high importance, but that’s especially the case here. Giving St. Bonaventure opportunities for run-outs is a dangerous game to play, even with Jaylen Adams being sidelined. While the oddsmakers started Maryland as an 8.5-point favorite, with it since moving to 9, that spread feels a bit high for this one. Maryland has the size advantage inside, but this has the potential to be a tricky matchup if they don’t make sound decisions with the basketball.

Thoughts on TCU and New Mexico

The first semifinal in Destin matches programs in much different places in 2017-18. While TCU, coming off of its first Postseason NIT title in program history, brings back nearly everyone from that team and is expected to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998, New Mexico is in a period of transition under first-year head coach Paul Weir. Jamie Dixon’s Horned Frogs are off to a 4-0 start, and while none of the opponents were “world-beaters” those were games that would give past TCU teams trouble.

Forward Vladimir Brodziansky is one of the Big 12’s best post players, and in senior Kenrich Williams TCU has a versatile wing who can impact the game in a variety of ways. Jaylen Fisher, Desmond Bane and JD Miller are also key players worth keeping an eye on, and freshman forward Kouat Noi has performed is off to a good start to his TCU career with averages of 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. The early issues for TCU have been foul shooting and defending the three, with opponents shooting 37.6 percent from deep, but they’ve been good in just about every other area.

As for New Mexico, it’s been touch and go for the program as it gets acclimated to a new way of doing things. One of the team’s two wins came against Northern New Mexico, with the Lobos scoring 147 points in that game. While UNM did put up 103 in a comfortable win over Omaha, that was followed by losses to New Mexico State (the program Weir left to take the UNM job) and Tennessee Tech. New Mexico plays fast, with junior guard Chris McNeil leading a balanced offensive attack with 18.5 points per game, but the team has not exactly mastered the art of getting stops.

Opponents are shooting 43.0 percent from two against New Mexico, with hoop-math.com numbers having opponents attempting just over 39 percent of their shots at the rim. While part of that is due to teams being able to get to the basket, the other issue for New Mexico on that end of the floor has been rebounding. New Mexico’s opponents have an offensive rebounding percentage of 39.4 percent, which is ranked 333rd in the country. Add in New Mexico’s penchant for sending teams to the foul line (ranked 308th in defensive free throw rate), and Friday’s matchup sets up to be a difficult one for the Lobos.

Best case scenario for Maryland: get to Saturday’s title game with TCU being the opposition, with that game setting up to be either a quality win or a loss that won’t hurt too much when it comes to the Terps’ NCAA tournament profile.

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Raphielle Johnson

Raphielle’s been writing about college sports for more than a decade, making the move to college basketball alone in 2013. Beginning his work with the former website CollegeHoops.net in 2003, Raphielle spent 3 years writing for NBCSports.com beginning 2013, covering CBB and the Olympics. In 2016, Raphielle joined Heavy.com. If there’s a game on, there’s a strong likelihood that he’s watching it.

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