A Rivalry Renewed, Not By Choice
Virginia makes a formerly familiar trek up US 29 to take on the Terrapins tonight. As familiar with this program and rivalry as most of us fans are, none of the current Hoo players have ever played against Maryland. Nice of ESPN to give them to us again, huh? Virginia hasn't lost an ACC-B1G Challenge game since 2013 (Wisconsin)... will the Terps have it in them to snap our 4-game winning streak?
|Date/Time:||Wednesday, November 28th, 7:00 pm ET|
|Location:||XFinity Center, College Park, MD|
What 'They' Say
|Vegas:||UVA -4, O/U 128, equates to a 66-62 UVA win|
|TAPE:||Ranks Maryland #46, Predicts a 65-58 UVA win, 76% confidence|
|KenPom:||Ranks Maryland #33, Predicts a 67-64 UVA win, 61% confidence|
|PG||#1 Anthony Cowan Jr., 6'0" 170, JR|
|32.8 mpg, 16.8 ppg, 4.7 apg, .281 3P%|
|SG||#11 Darryl Morsell, 6'5" 200, SO|
|26.0 mpg, 11.2 ppg, 2.5 apg, .182 3P%|
|SF||#5 Eric Ayala, 6'5" 205, FR|
|27.2 mpg, 8.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg, .486 FG%|
|PF||#25 Jalen Smith, 6'10" 215, FR|
|24.0 mpg, 13.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg, .528 FG%|
|C||#23 Bruno Fernando, 6'10" 240, SO|
|24.2 mpg, 16.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg, .774 FG%|
|G||#10 Serrel Smith Jr., 6'4" 170, FR|
|13.0 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 0.5 apg, .238 3P%|
|SF||#2 Aaron Wiggins, 6'6" 200, FR|
|27.0 mpg, 10.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, .333 FG%|
|F||#14 Ricky Lindo Jr., 6'8" 200, FR|
|10.7 mpg, 1.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, .273 FG%|
|C||#13 Ivan Bender, 6'9" 228, SR|
|5.0 mpg, 0.7 ppg, 0.7 rpg, .667 FG%|
The ABC's of Maryland:
They've got five true freshmen in their main rotation. Maryland saw a large exodus from its disappointing 2017-18 roster, one that finished with a losing record in the B1G and missed the postseason altogether. Gone from that roster are veterans Michael Cekovsky, Sean Obi, and Jared Nickens (each graduated), transfer Dion Wiley (St Louis), and star-chasers Kevin Huerter (#18 Draft pick with the Hawks) and Justin Jackson (2nd rounder with the Magic's G-League affiliate).
Mark Turgeon has had to lean heavily on his 7th-ranked 2018 recruiting class as a result. The headliner of that class is 5-star F/C Jalen "Sticks" Smith, a rangy big man with NBA designs who's started all 6 games so far. On the wing is 4-star SF (and former priority Tony Bennett target) Aaron Wiggins, who has 2 starts so far and is getting 27 minutes a night. In the backcourt 4-star 2-guard Eric Ayala has five starts on the year. Backing them up are two more freshmen being eased into things, combo guard Serrel Smith and big man Ricky Lindo are getting between 10 and 15 minutes a night against the light competition. The youth movement actually makes the Maryland roster the 5th least experienced (out of 353) in the entire country per KenPom.
They haven't faced real competition yet. As of this drafting, the KenPom rankings (out of 353) of UMD's 6 opponents go #195, 314, 335, 140, 338, and 104. We'll be a wake-up call in competition level. That adjustment is going to be jarring especially from a defensive perspective, as the best AdjD of any of those opponents is Marshall ranked around 135th, and the rest ~#200 or worse (including NC A&T at #349th). Maryland has the nation's 15th worst strength of schedule overall so far. And looking only at opponents' defenses, it's the 7th worst.
They're struggling shooting the 3-ball. There aren't a lot of team stats worth evaluating when the best team they've faced so far is Marshall. Of course they're outrebounding smaller teams, or getting to the rim nearly at will. But one statistic that pops out regardless of competition level is their struggling 31% team 3-point shooting. Interestingly enough it's two of the freshmen who are buoying that statistic to any degree, with Wiggins shooting 38% (13/34 on the year) and Ayala shooting 45% (9/20). The rest of the team is hurting. Jalen Smith is only 1/7 in his attempts to establish himself as a stretch threat. Fellow freshman guard Serrel Smith is only 5/21. Anthony Cowan (28% currently) did shoot 37% as a sophomore last year, so there's hope for a breakout, but Morsell is only a 15% career shooter from deep.
Their Season To Date
Maryland is 6-0 on the year, with wins over bottom feeders (Navy, NC A&T, and Mt St Mary's) and mid-majors (Delaware, Hofstra, and most recently Marshall), but no opponents in the KenPom Top 100.
Keys to getting the win:
Protect the defensive glass. Maryland has been crushing teams on the offensive glass so far this year. Yes, the level of competition has been weak, but all the same, Maryland is 8th nationally in OR% at 40.7% (meaning they grab 2 out of every 5 of their own misses), and that level of excellence is noteworthy regardless of who it's against. The Terps are doing this largely on the backs of their NBA-prospect big men Fernando (3.0 OReb per game) and Jalen Smith (3.7 OReb per game), though Morsell is chipping in with one and a half a game as well from the wing. These are a key reason Maryland is so efficient in the paint, often scoring off bunny putbacks, and shows in the gaudy 2P%s for J. Smith (59%), Morsell (61%), and Fernando (79%). Keeping them off the glass will be the primary task for our forwards and centers, and why I doubt we see a lot of Huff in this one.
One thing that will help us greatly in this regard is...
Make them a jump shooting team. This is about more than just exploiting their relatively weak shooting percentages. This is about preventing rebounding assignment breakdowns in the lane. If, for instance, Cowan is able to get into the lane and get a shot up, even a contested one, it likely means our big men are rotating over to help, meaning Sticks and Fernando are now unencumbered on the glass. Whether it's with dogged on-ball defense or help perimeter defense cutting off attempted drives, preventing dribble penetration from Maryland's guards, especially Cowan, means our bigs can stay home on their defensive rebounding assignments and prevent too many second chance opportunities.
Harass them into turnovers. Despite the weak competition so far, Maryland is struggling with ball security through six games. They rank a middling 157th nationally in TO% (18.8%, or about a TO every 5th possession). What makes it worse, however, is their live-ball TO% (AKA, offensive steal %), which at almost 11% is 301st nationally. Plenty of blame to go around as well, with four players averaging over 2 TOs a night (Guards Cowan, Morsell, and Ayala, as well as center Fernando). Virginia should be aggressive on defense... jump passing lanes, pressure ball handlers, trap the post, and we should give their offense a lot of fits before they even get a shot up.
UVA is a more veteran, talented, and better coached team than the Terrapins, and under neutral circumstances we'd win this one safely. But one thing to watch closely here is UVA's energy level compared to Maryland's. Virginia spent last week flying to the Bahamas and back, playing 3 games in 3 days with starters logging heavy minutes in tightly-contested wins over Dayton and Wisconsin. Maryland, by contrast, has yet to leave their home state at all this season, their only game away from XFinity being a 45 minute bus ride to Annapolis to blow out lowly Navy. The Terps could potentially have a very real advantage in freshness in this one, meaning they could come out of the gate fast and/or wear us down in the second half. If things go wrong tonight, I'd bet heavily that the fatigue is the reason why.
But ultimately, I have to trust in our superior roster and our far superior head coach (Mark Turgeon is very much an "overachieving recruiter, underachieving coach" type), and also that rosters as heavily dependent on freshmen as is Maryland's (they've given 51% of their minutes to freshmen thus far) will have a rude awakening facing the Pack Line this early in those freshmen's careers.
Additionally, while Fernando and Sticks can protect the rim, the rest of their defense figures to be exploitable, and if we can space them effectively with Key and Hunter at the 4-spot, I trust our guards and forwards to find ways to get a sufficient number of good looks. Just have to hope our legs are fresh enough to not throw off our jumpers.
Tony's mastery over Turgeon (6-1, with the one loss coming in OT in a statistically insignificant regular season finale) continues, though the fatigue factor makes it closer than we'd like, late FTs needed to ice it. Hoos win.
Hoos Win 64-59