Who: #4 Maryland Terrapins at Northwestern Wildcats
What: A true road game against a team on a 10 game win streak
Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena, Big Ten Network
When: 5:00 PM ET
Line: Maryland (-4.5)
I think everyone learned the lesson about overlooking Northwestern last season. In a season characterized by some fantastic escapes, the Northwestern game topped the list. Maryland trailed by 11 at the half, and after a back and forth second half, the deficit remained there with 3:47 left. The last 30 seconds included two Trimble free throws, a pretty fall away jumper from the Wildcats to take the lead back, and then this to seal an incredibly improbable home win.
With the exception of starting center Alex Olah, who will miss this game with a foot injury, this Northwestern squad nearly mirrors last year. The guy who took the aforementioned fall away jumper, Tre Demps, will be starting in the backcourt. Bryant McIntosh will be alongside him, and if you don’t remember McIntosh’s name, he was the guy who made you ask “wait HOW MANY POINTS does that little white kid have?!” He finished last year’s game with 21, and he’s averaged a shade under 16 points and 7 assists this season, with some impressive shooting percentages across the board.
If not for the Olah injury, 4/5th’s of the Wildcats starting five would be exactly the same from 2015. Unfortunately for Maryland, his injury may have created a larger problem in the form of freshman Dererk (not a typo) Pardon. Pardon has played two games. His first was a quiet 6 point showing against Loyola, but in his second he nearly went full Diamond Stone with a 28 point 12 rebound clinic against Nebraska.
I didn’t watch that game, but the people over at InsideNu.com did, and what they describe sounds like a smaller version of Stone. Multiple moves in the post, great at rolling to the basket and finding holes in the defense for easy buckets. It seems like he and Stone (who I would have to guess will get the start) will be an interesting chess match all the way through.
I’m far from the only person that thinks Northwestern’s talent is underrated, but their efficiency is what really jumps out. They only score 80 points per game, but they do it shooting 48.8% from the field (24th in NCAA) and 39.1% from three (35th in the country). The obvious counter here is that Northwestern has been feasting on some weak competition. KenPom has their strength of schedule so far as 339th in the country, and that includes a loss to North Carolina.
Three things to watch:
1. Trimble v. McIntosh: I just finished watching “Making a Murderer” so I can’t really get court cases out of my brain. At 6’3” 177 lbs, McIntosh may not look like much, but he was really impressive last year in College Park. Because I can’t find the highlights from last year, I have to go strictly off memory to remember his game. He’s over 40% from three, so that already tells you he’s a great shooter. The sneaky part of his game is how he gets his two’s, and if I recall correctly his floater game is stronger is post-Chipotle burrito strong.
What you’re probably thinking is that Trimble won’t even see McIntosh’s offensive game, because Sulaimon usually gets the tougher backcourt defensive assignment. But this Wildcats backcourt has two 15 PPG scorers with Tre Demps flanking McIntosh, and Demps has 20 pounds on his teammate which means Trimble and McIntosh should be mono e mono most of the night.
2. Stone v. Pardon: McIntosh and Trimble is definitely the main event for this one, but Stone and Pardon could produce a scintillating heavyweight undercard. Or, they could both revert to what they were prior to their Big 10 debuts (which would definitely favor Maryland). The two men in the middle both have offensive skill sets beyond their years, but I’m much more interested to see how they look on defense.
According to InsideNU, Pardon’s one shortcoming against Nebraska was at the center of the defense, and Stone’s defense has been anywhere from questionable to non-existent. Turgeon praised Stone’s defense against Penn State in his post game interview, so there’s definitely hope for Maryland on this end, but I’m not expecting Stone to turn into the center of a championship caliber defense overnight. If either of these guys get in early foul trouble, it could significantly alter the chemistry of their respective team’s offense.
3. Everyone else: It sounds like a major cop out, but seriously EVERYONE ELSE had an awful game against Penn State. With Northwestern still piecing together their post-Olah frontcourt, the strongest bet for a bounce back has to be Robert Carter who I hope will be attacking the basket and not attempting 7 three pointers like he did against Marshall. Rasheed Sulaimon had been pretty quiet before his 1 point game against Penn State, and he’ll have a tough matchup with Demps, so I’m fine with him just bringing his defense and 6-8 points to the table.
By that process of elimination, Maryland will need some offense from either Jared Nickens and his zone busting threes or the enigma that is Jake Layman. Nickens has been very quiet this season, and Layman has had some good moments but none of them have come during Maryland’s toughest tests. If one of them steps up tonight to complement Trimble, Stone and Carter, that should be enough to swing this game.
Prediction: Maryland 77, Northwestern 70
A lot of people have this one closer, and part of my prediction could have a lot to do with me not seeing any of Northwestern this year. I know they’re extremely well coached, and I know they have talented players. But the two factors I have going for Maryland is that I expect a return to form after their worst game of the season, and Northwestern – especially with their students still on break – is maybe the least intimidating place to play in the Big 10. There won’t be a significant home court advantage. If the Terps stick to their game plan of attacking the basket and racking up fouls, they should be able to force Pardon off the floor and make Northwestern dig deeper than they’d like to.