Who: #21(!) Maryland Terrapins vs. #7 Virginia Cavaliers
What: The first time the Comcast (Xfinity?) Center will be rocking in the 2014-2015 season
Where: The Xfinity Center and ESPN2
When: 9:15 PM ET
In a way it’s kind of a good thing that Dez Wells got injured. Not because it forced Melo Trimble to handle the ball in crunch time situations, or it revealed that Richaud Pack and Dion Wiley can carry a decent scoring load. No, the silver lining I see in Wells’ unfortunate fractured wrist is that it has curbed my ridiculous optimism surrounding this team.
With a healthy Wells shouldering the load in the second half, the Terps played the most complete game I’ve seen a Maryland team play since 2010 and thoroughly outplayed the Iowa State Cyclones in what was essentially a road game in Kansas City. Needless to say, in the days following, I raved like a lunatic about Maryland basketball. If it weren’t for the Wells injury, not only would I be predicting Terrapin domination tonight, I would be threatening to piss on the ashes Shooter McGavin style.
Instead, Maryland will welcome Virginia to the Terrible Cable Service Center Wednesday short-handed. Let’s take a look at how the #5 Cavaliers operate.
You Disappoint Me Mr. Anderson
And sometimes movie quotes work perfectly. There have been a lot of transfers that have hurt over the years, but the one that really sticks with me is Justin Anderson bailing on Mark Turgeon and heading down to Tony Bennett in Charlottesville. He was one of the most highly touted recruits College Park had seen in a while, and this year he’s lived up to his billing. Just in the wrong place.
Anderson is averaging 15 points per game – albeit against some less than stellar competition. Quick, who can name Tennessee State’s mascot? – this year for the Cavs and has really been a dead eye shooter from downtown (16/27, 59%). He’s like Dez Wells in a mirror, an extremely athletic lefty 6’6” swingman, and he’s been UVA’s leading scorer on a team that scratches and claws for every point they can get. If someone can put handcuffs on him tonight, it would force the Cavs to squeeze points from some previously untapped sources.
The Best Defense In The Country
One of my favorite things about Maryland this season has been how well and how consistently they’ve defended. On the outside and especially on the inside, opponents have really had to work against the Terps defense to even get subpar looks at the basket. Unfortunately though, the title of this section is not in reference to Maryland.
Whatever negative things you want to say about Bennett’s offensive philosophy, there’s nothing that you can do but heap praise on him for Virginia’s defense. Bennett employs the “pack line” defense that his dad popularized at Wisconsin. It’s a half court defense that basically preaches not allowing ball handlers to get to the baseline, and not allowing any clean catches near the basket. Or it’s completely the opposite of that, and I didn’t read far enough in the “Pack Line Defense Teaching Plan”.
Either way, it’s incredibly effective. Rutgers may kind of suck at basketball, but with wins over Vanderbilt and Clemson, they can still be considered a solid power conference team. Virginia held them to 26 points; 18 points in the first half, and 8 points in the second half. I know that Dez has always had turnover problems, but without him on the floor, it will be an awfully young Terps team facing what could arguably be “The Best Defense in the Country.”
Besides starting point guard Blake Perrantes, who is a sophomore, this is a very experienced Virginia team. So although they’re not especially skilled on offense, they certainly won’t scare easy if Maryland comes roaring out of the gates behind a raucous home crowd.
Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, Darion Atkins. None of these guys are going to absolutely light the world on fire, but they’re all juniors or seniors who are A) vital cogs in the UVA defense and B) capable if not exceptional scorers. With a team this experienced, Maryland is going to have win this one because UVA won’t give it away with bad turnovers or stupid fouls.
How Maryland Can Win
In case you forgot, the Terps did beat UVA in overtime in their last ACC home game last season. The way they did it was by giving the Cavs a taste of their own medicine with some great defense (Virginia shot only 38.6% from the field) and with three solid offensive performances (Allen, Wells, and Smotrycz all scored in double figures).
The biggest thing is either Layman or Trimble getting rolling early and forcing the Virginia defense to key a little more on one of them to help create space for the rest of the options on the floor. The shooters – Nickens, Pack, Wiley, and to an extent Layman – will need make some contested shots because they won’t be getting many open looks, and if Dodd and Cekovsky can stay out of foul trouble and command the inside the way they have the last few games, an upset certainly isn’t out of the question.
Virginia – 63 Maryland – 58
If at first you succeed, bet against the Terps again. I may have a 6 pack riding on a Terps win against Jabby, but the smart money here says that Virginia’s stout defense frustrates a young Maryland team into a few too many mistakes. The Cavs’ lack of offense will keep this one close, but I trust their ability to close out a game more than Maryland’s simply because they have a track record. Regardless, let’s go Maryland and if they win, I will be borderline delusional about their tournament prospects and will also bet against them in every game the rest of the season.