Terps Hit Road In Search Of Quality Wins; Visit Ohio State & Michigan This Week
The return to conference play last week pretty much produced the expected results for Maryland, as the Terps won home games against two teams they were expected to beat in Penn State and Iowa and dropped one at then-top ranked Michigan State. What wasn’t expected from those games was the margin in which Maryland lost in East Lansing, hanging around for much of the first half before going on to get beat by 30.
But in that game the few reliable front court options still available to Mark Turgeon (Michal Cekovsky and Bruno Fernando) got into foul trouble, and in time Maryland went away from the “small” lineup that kept things close for much of the game’s first 20 minutes. Add in the fact that Michigan State was rolling offensively, making 57.1 percent of its shots both inside and outside of the three-point line (Jaren Jackson Jr. had himself a night, going 5-for-6 from three), and it isn’t all too difficult to see why things got out of hand.
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Give Maryland credit for bouncing back however, as all five starters scored in double figures against Iowa (Bruno Fernando led the way with 21 to go along with seven boards), and Dion Wiley was productive off the bench with ten points. As we all know by now the turnover count will be the key for this group, as in the wins over Penn State and Iowa the Terps committed a total of 15. In the loss to Michigan State, Maryland had 12 turnovers and gave up the ball on 19.0 percent of its possessions.
While that percentage is still below what the team has produced for the season as a whole (21.9%), Maryland doesn’t have much margin for error given the fact that it doesn’t force a high turnover percentage defensively (17.3%). That will be key as Maryland begins a stretch in which it plays three of the next four games away from College Park, beginning Thursday night in Columbus against an Ohio State team that’s won eight of its last nine games and is tied for first place in the Big Ten with a 4-0 record.
With its 5-3 start to the season, Ohio State looked to be headed towards a season filled with growing pains under first-year head coach Chris Holtmann. That hasn’t been the case however, as the Buckeyes have taken care of business against the team’s they’ve been expected to beat and whipped Michigan State Sunday afternoon. Keita Bates-Diop was the star in that one, going off for 32 points while also grabbing seven rebounds and racking up three steals.
Michigan State tried a variety of players on Bates-Diop but could not find an answer for the 6-foot-7 junior, and along with senior Jae’Sean Tate this could be a tough matchup for a Maryland team that’s without its most versatile front court option (Justin Jackson) for the remainder of the season. Going small was effective for Maryland in its loss to Michigan State, and given the mobility issue of the bigs outside of Fernando they may have to do it again here due to the presence of Bates-Diop and Tate.
With Jackson and Ivan Bender both done for the season, it’s up to Fernando and Cekovsky to hold down the fort in the paint with freshman Joshua Tomaic having worked his way into the rotation recently. As for Sean Obi, not sure how much he can provide outside of emergency minutes if Maryland were to encounter severe foul trouble (or injury) amongst its top front court options as he has not played in three of the last four and was ineffective in 16 minutes at Michigan State.
That’s where the productivity of a Wiley comes into play; in the three games prior to Sunday’s win over Iowa he scored a total of nine points. And with Jared Nickens unable to produce much outside of the wins over FDU and Catholic (ten points total in the last four games, including none against Iowa), Maryland needs Wiley to use that outing as a stepping stone.
Ohio State’s received solid contributions from junior point guard C.J. Jackson, senior shooting guard Kam Williams and freshman forward Kaleb Wesson, but all three feel like players Maryland has the personnel to match up with Thursday night. The key will be to keep Bates-Diop and Tate in check, meaning that they’ll need someone to step forward alongside the aforementioned Huerter on the wing.
After the battle in Columbus, Maryland visits Ann Arbor for a matchup with Michigan Monday night. While prior John Beilein-coached teams have been a bit free-flowing offensively, this group tends to stick with the half-court brand of basketball. But it works, as Michigan’s won seven straight since losing at Ohio State in early December. Charles Matthews and Moritz Wagner lead the way offensively for a team that has four double-digit scorers, and they value the basketball while having also proven to be quite adept at taking the ball away.
Michigan is currently ranked 45th in the country in defensive turnover percentage per kenpom.com, with its opponents losing the ball on 22.0% of their possessions, and the Wolverines’ steal percentage (6.5%) ranks ninth. Offensively, Michigan turns the ball over on just 15.3 percent of its possessions. Michigan isn’t a pressure defensive team by any stretch, but they’ve been good at capitalizing on the mistakes made by their opponents. This is where Maryland will need its improvements in valuing the basketball to travel, because if that doesn’t happen the Terps will find themselves in some trouble.
While Huerter (and by extension, Wiley) may be the key players to watch against Ohio State, Cowan, Morsell (and Huerter) would be my guys to watch against Michigan because of the turnovers. Those three will have the ball in their hands, and they have to make sound decisions.
The Big Ten has been criticized, and rightfully so, for the lack of work done in non-conference play by teams other than Michigan State and Purdue. That being said, the improvements made by Ohio State and Michigan have made both teams viable options to at minimum develop into solid NCAA tournament-worthy teams. That makes both quality opportunities for Maryland to add good results to their profile, and with that two-game stretch against Michigan State and Purdue looming at the end of the month getting at least a split in the next two would serve the Terps well.