Who: Maryland Terrapins at Michigan State Spartans
What: The opener of the Big 10 schedule against a perennial power
Where: The Breslin Center in Lansing, and ESPN2
When: 5 PM on December 30
To say the first two months of this college basketball season have been excellent would be an understatement.
Through their first 13 games, Maryland has been emphatically answering all of the big questions that were facing them coming into the year. Not only do the Terps have a point guard, they have a burgeoning star at the position capable of both managing games and taking them over. Not only are the rest of the freshmen talented, they’re poised under pressure and extremely confident. Not only has Jake Layman made the leap to solid second banana status, he’s exceeded it by leaps and bounds.
Between Layman, Trimble, and Dez Wells, the Terps definitely have a John and a Paul, the biggest question left now is which one can be comfortable being George.
Maryland passed their first test on the road (and possibly their second as well if you consider the Iowa State game a road game like I did). But now they face a team in Michigan State that is exceptionally coached, very physically tough, and probably a little bit desperate.
If the Terps knock off the Spartans in Lansing, it’ll drop Tom Izzo’s team to 9-5 on the year and panic sirens will officially be sounding. Let’s take a look at the team that Izzo still firmly believes will make a deep run in March.
What To Know About Michigan State:
Without even looking at any numbers, one thing is always true about MSU; they rebound very well.
Just like UConn in the Calhoun years, Izzo preaches the value of the glass in Lansing and as usual, his kids have heeded the word. But two weeks ago against Eastern Michigan, leading rebounder Branden Dawson went down with a fractured wrist. The 6’6” senior had 18 rebounds at Notre Dame, and if he’s unable to go, it would be the Spartan front line much less intimidating and possibly swing the rebounding edge to Maryland.
Michigan State doesn’t have a bona fide star in the mold of Gary Harris or Draymond Green, but Denzel Valentine is a very good player who can be great on the right night.
A 6’5” guard, Valentine does a little bit of everything: he’s a willing (if flawed) passer, and he’s athletic enough to get to the basket and score. His expertise lies behind the arc, after being solid last year (37.7%) he’s lighting the world on fire in 2014 knocking down treys at a 50% clip.
And he’s not the only one who can hit it from deep. Guards Bryn Forbes (45.3%) and Travis Trice (38.4%) are both great as well.
Add in the lower volume shooters hitting their shots, and surprise, the Spartans have the 3rd best team three point percentage in the country at 42%. Add in that Michigan State is tied for 6th in the country at 18.3 assists per game, and you should expect to see a very non-traditional Tom Izzo team with lots of ball movement, lots of perimeter scoring, and maybe not as much size.
Overall, a lot of people look at the embarrassing losses in the Big 10 and see a down year for the league. I can’t say for sure whether Michigan will bounce back, but Michigan State is almost certainly a good team who had a nightmare of a night against Texas Southern. Their near misses against Kansas and Notre Dame certainly make them look like a top 25 team off to a rough start, but if this game gets close in the closing minutes, I’d much rather see the Terps at the line (74.5%) than Michigan State (63.2%).
What To Look For With Maryland:
Let’s get the obvious out of the way, everyone wants to see how Dez Wells will play in his second game back from his own wrist fracture. Wells came off the bench against Oakland and showed that the athleticism is still there, finishing off an alley-oop from Trimble on the break.
With Wells, Layman, and Trimble all being very capable, one will need to defer a little bit. The most obvious solution to me would be Trimble settling in to more of a distributor role, and Layman and Wells taking on the bulk of the scoring load.
That’s different from my preferred solution where Wells actually takes a few less shots per game, allowing the more efficient Layman and Trimble to continue to provide the bulk of the scoring for the Terps. It should also be interesting to see who has the ball in their hands at crunch time. Wells handled those duties before his injuries, but Trimble has been more than effective in his absence.
Seeing who the primary forward off the bench is will also be interesting, with Smotrycz seemingly pulling ahead of Cekovsky in Turgeon’s rotation. Cekovsky’s size might not be needed against an undersized Spartan team, so I expect the Terps to continue to go for more of a small ball approach with some better shooting.
This is a really tough one, but I’m done betting against this team on the road after they’ve shown so much against Iowa State and Oklahoma State. I believe this will be a tight one, and even though the Terps have shown some cracks against a late game press, their free throw shooting will help them prevail in the end.
Maryland – 72, Michigan State – 66