Who: Maryland Terrapins at Ohio State Buckeyes
What: The Gary Williams Bowl
Where: Value City Arena, ESPN
When: Thursday night, 7:00 PM
I’d like to start this off with a heartfelt thank you to the writing staff of Saturday Night Live. Their completely ridiculous and thus undeniably funny country parody “The Wishin Boot” was my song of choice to drown out what looked like a brutal Maryland home less to Big 10 dredge Northwestern on Sunday night.
I started playing that song coming back from commercial with 3:28 left and Maryland down 11, and during the inspired hair-on-fire comeback that ensued, I looped it four times. So instead of praising Turgeon’s channeling of Gary Williams’ full court pressure, Jake Layman’s voracious offensive rebounding, or Dez Wells’ miraculous acrobatic tip in, I’ll place the credit squarely where it belongs. Because if I’ve learned anything this college basketball season, it’s that once one of my teams starts winning, I turn into a superstitious crazy person. On to Ohio State.
What You Need To Know About Ohio State
D’Angelo Russell is the best player Maryland will face all year:
Frank Kaminsky and Yogi Ferrell be damned, there is no more talented player in the conference than the Buckeyes 6’5” freshman combo guard. Russell is a rare gem amongst college players: a top-flight athlete with a nearly formed offensive game. With the added responsibility of being Ohio State’s primary ball handler, there’s a heavy burden on his shoulders to carry this Buckeye team to and through the NCAA tournament.
Russell is averaging 19.4 PPG on the season, and 23.5 PPG in eight Big 10 games. He is a high volume three shooter who also makes a very high percentage of those shots (44% on the season). He can score (33 points at Northwestern), rebound (14 rebounds at Iowa), and distribute (10 assists vs. Indiana). Similar to Deshaun Thomas a few years ago, Ohio State has tent poled their entire offense around him, and for the most part it’s worked.
Fortunately for Maryland, Dez Wells looks to be about as good of a matchup for Russell as a team can have. Turgeon has repeatedly praised Wells’ defense recently, and it will take one heck of an effort from him just to cool off Russell (20+ points in his last four games).
The number two scorer in this offense is fluid
I’m really lost on this one. The two other players averaging in double figures for OSU are forwards Marc Loving and Sam Thompson. After a nice two game stretch against North Carolina and Miami in the out of conference (19 and 16 points respectively), Loving was a nice secondary option early on in Big 10 play (12 PPG average in the first three games). Recently however, he’s become a less reliable source of production, hitting double figures in scoring in only two of his last five games. He’s still a dangerous shooter (an even 50% from three on the year), but judging by his numbers, it seems like he’s done little else besides spot up over the last few weeks.
The other possible second option would senior Sam Thompson. Thompson’s game is not one predicated on outside shooting, and a quick YouTube search shows that Thompson can throw it down with anyone in country. The Terps have been switching it up between zone and man defense quite a bit recently, and were victimized by backdoor cuts in both the Indiana and Northwestern games. Especially on the road where the fan atmosphere can play a huge part in the game, Thompson’s acrobatic fireworks are definitely dangerous.
Or hey, it could be 6’4” freshman Jae’Sean Tate who had 20 points on 9/10 shooting in the recent win over Indiana. Tate’s a big guy trapped in a guard’s body and gets most of his points inside banging in the paint. Unlike with Maryland, there’s not a defined pecking order on offense. Even with Loving’s shooting, the threat on offense to me is inside the arc where the Buckeyes lead the conference in two-point field goal percentage.
What To Watch For Maryland
How does Damonte Dodd fit in this game?
The answer has consistently been no over the last few games, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the defense has been shaky both at Indiana and versus Northwestern. In those two games combined, Dodd took one shot and grabbed one board. It seems like Turgeon has preferred to go small with Smotrycz or even occasionally Jon Graham at the five spot.
Even if Ohio State does choose to go with a lineup without a traditional center, Dodd is an invaluable piece for the Terps. He’s really the only rim protector on the team, and with all of the uncontested layups the last two games, I’d like to see him out there for more than 10 or 12 minutes. Early in the season, it was blatantly obvious that Maryalnd’s defense was infinitely better with the 6’11” sophomore on the floor. Hopefully he can now stabilize what has been a shaky interior against the talented and efficient OSU offense.
Can Nickens and Wiley handle the pressure?
At this point, Nickens is a starter and designated spot up shooter. Against Northwestern, he tried to create his own shot a number of times with some not so great results (3/11 from the field). If he stays in his lane, I think he’ll be fine to knock down a few open threes.
My big question here is Wiley, who I think deserves a few more minutes at the expense of Richaud Pack. I love the veteran presence Pack brings to the team, but outside of some above average rebounding for his size, he doesn’t bring much to the table. James Blackmon Jr routinely blew by him against Indiana, and considering he’s usually the fourth scoring option any time he’s on the floor, maybe it’s time to give the more athletic Wiley some burn in the middle of the game.
Wiley is maybe the most athletic guy on the roster besides Wells, and while I’d rather have Pack handling the ball in the back court when the press comes at the end of games, I think Wiley has a higher defensive ceiling. If Turgeon does give Wiley a bigger opportunity, it should be very interesting to see how he handles a very tough road environment at Ohio State.
Maryland – 70, Ohio State – 76
This is a really tough one to call because there are so many questions. Does Maryland continue to keep Dodd on the bench in favor of going small? Can the defense bounce back from two subpar performances? And most importantly, can Dez stay in front of Russell without getting into foul trouble? The third one is the most important to me, and unfortunately I think the answer is no.
Wells is a very solid defender, but he has a habit of picking up more than a few fouls, and he’s really the only guy on the roster who matches up with Russell at all. If he does get in foul trouble, Russell would be a nightmare for whoever gets assigned to him. This is one of the tougher games left on Maryland’s schedule, and if they prove me wrong and do pick up the road win, it would be yet another strong argument for a high seed come March.