A Preview of Tonight’s Blockbuster Matchup

Who: LIU Blackbirds vs Maryland Terrapins
What: The first shot at getting over .500 this season
Where: Comcast Center, ESPN3
When: Friday, October 16 – 7:00 PM
Line: Apparently nonexistent

Wait, who are we playing?:

A team with a less intimidating mascot than a Terrapin. Blackbirds are from the genus Turdus (I laughed at it, I also still eat Cocoa Puffs for breakfast). If the biggest blackbird and the biggest turtle got in a fight, the turtle would win, and I can’t say that too often before the Georgia Tech game (and I still usually don’t because of paralyzing fear of bees).

HOWEVER, this is a team that has made the NCAA tournament the past two seasons and brought back a lot of the players involved in that. Despite LIU being 0-2, I get the feeling this is going to be a more difficult game than Monday’s romp over Morehead State.

Gotta watch out for:

The scoreboard. LIU had the 3rd best scoring offense in the country last year at 81.3 ppg. Jamal Olasewere and Julian Boyd are matching 3/4 combos who are equally capable scorers (41.5 ppg combined this season) and rebounders (15.0 rpg combined). Boyd was last season’s conference player of the year and is a legitimate threat to repeat.

Point guard Jason Brickman is helpful (8.0 apg) but accident prone (5.0 tpg). He can also stroke it from deep (40.6 3pt % last season). The fourth scoring option is C.J. Garner who, at 5’10”, is adequately undersized for this team. What could make this team a legitimate threat is if somebody can provide air support alongside Brickman.

Obviously something that always worries me: experience. This team has tasted success and won’t shrivel up and cower in the corner at the first sign of conflict. They’re battle-tested, they know who they are as players, and they know their identity and style as a team. Considering they travel to Lexington to face Kentucky after this game, they’ll be fighting to prevent starting 0-4, and you know what they say about cornered blackbirds…

Come on, is there a chance this is close?

Unlike Morehead State, LIU does have one skill that they excel at in scoring, so there’s always a punchers chance. But judging by what I’ve seen from Maryland’s defense the first two games (disruptive if not entirely cogent), I can’t really foresee a situation in which LIU wins this game. They would need to be able to score at their regular frenetic pace against the best defense they’ve faced thus far, and also defend at a level commensurate with a D1 college basketball team instead of their normal “4th grade CYO team” level (77.7 ppg allowed last season, 331st in NCAA).

If LIU sticks with their 3 guard starting lineup from the first two games, either Olasewere or Boykin will have to deal with all the issues Alex Len presents in the post, including a 5” height advantage against either of them. Regardless of lineup adjustment, the tallest Blackbird on the roster is 6’8” Khalil Murphy. So even if they did play defense in the first place, they’d have no way to go about defending the 7’1” Len.

3 things to look for besides a win:

1) The biggest rebound disparity you’ll see all year. I’m sure Mark Turgeon would prefer a stress-free W where Maryland guts LIU on the inside with a big talented frontline that outrebounded freakin’ Kentucky (I still can’t believe that). In half court sets, expect to see the ball in Len’s hands plenty. Whether he’s posting up, plucking uncontested offensive rebounds, or eventually passing out of the inevitable double teams, the offense should revolve around Len’s dominance in the post.

2) There will be challenges for both point guards tonight, and I’m interested to see who handles them better. For Pe’Shon, he’ll have to deal with the small but quick Blackbirds guards (CJ Garner, Brandon Thompson, and Jason Brickman are all 6’1” or smaller). He’s looked a step slow early in the season, and has had trouble shaking his man and getting into the paint early in the season. For Seth Allen, the issue will be limiting turnovers, seemingly the only area of defense in which LIU excels (8.5 TOpg in their first two games). I think Howard solidifies his grip on the spot tonight with a few buckets to go with 8 or 9 assists.

3) The search for the elusive outside shooter continues. I’ve already pushed most of my chips in on Layman with Seth Allen getting a smaller piece of the stack. In their first two games, LIU has been ravaged from the perimeter (Morehead State and Lafayette shot a combined 17/39 on threes), so this would seem like an apt time for somebody to knock down open threes once the defense collapses around the Terps forwards. Hopefully once Maryland gets a healthy lead, Layman knocks a few down to get the confidence that a shot like his deserves.