Who: #12 Maryland Terrapins vs Minnesota Golden Gophers
What: The Big 10 home opener
When: January 3rd at 12:00 PM
Where: The Comcast Center and Big Ten Network
I hope everyone enjoyed the ugliest game of basketball ever played as much as I did. Maryland’s 68-66 Double OT triumph in East Lansing had all the beauty and coordination of a New Years Eve bar fight. Plenty of turnovers, both teams launching blindly from three point range to no avail, and even some official confusion on top (Damonte Dodd fouled out with four fouls).
However, I stand by what I said on our Podcast this week: I love those types of wins, sometimes more than the dominant ones. Most teams can win when all of the cylinders are clicking like in the Iowa State game. What separates the great ones from the good ones is the grit and ingenuity it takes to win ugly.
The Terps had plenty of problems Tuesday against the Spartans. They couldn’t knock down outside shots, they were careless with the ball, and Branden Dawson was taking Evan Smotrycz to school in the post just to name three. Fortunately, Mark Turgeon did what smart coaches do: he changed course. Towards the end of regulation, the spot up threes vanished in favor of an attack the basket offense, which exploited a major advantage Maryland had at the free throw line.
Turgeon also made the tough – and right – decision of eschewing the textbook defensive matchups, and sticking 6’11” Damonte Dodd on the 6’6” Dawson. It played out perfectly with Dodd making a huge block on the defensive end and a go-ahead hook shot on the other.
All things told, winning at your best takes talent, winning ugly takes guts and intelligence in equal parts. Maryland showed that they had both traits in spades on Tuesday. So now, the Terps come back home one win away from an almost assured spot in the Top 10 of Monday’s polls.
What to know about Minnesota:
Just looking at Minnesota’s record and statistical rankings gives the Golden Gophers the look of a fringe Top 25 team. They rank in the top 15 nationally in both points per game and field goal percentage. They rank 2nd in steals per game, and 1st in assists per game. Those numbers are indicative of a basketball juggernaut, but obviously those numbers aren’t what they seem or we’d be welcoming our new Gopher overlords.
Outside of two games (losses to Louisville and St. John’s) Minnesota has played a very weak out of conference schedule. Their best win was against 7-3 Georgia on a neutral court, the only team they’ve beaten inside the RPI Top 100. By feasting on cupcakes early on, Richard Pitino has set a high bar for his team to clear in Big 10 play.
No, I don’t like calling Rick Pitino “Richard” to make it sound more formal. Yes, that is his son that will be coaching against Mark Turgeon on Saturday. The younger Pitino borrows one big thing from his father’s playbook: the press. Minnesota presses just as much as Louisville, and has 3 players averaging over 2 steals per game. We’ve seen Maryland struggle in the closing minutes of games against the press, so Saturday could be one difficult 40 minute test.
As far as players, the Gophers don’t really revolve around one star. Senior guard Andre Hollins leads the team in scoring at 13.7 PPG, he’s the one guy who profiles as a real three point threat (47.8 3pt %). The team is obviously very unselfish with the ball, but at 6.6 assists per game, senior DeAndre Mathieu would be appear the main catalyst on offense. Minnesota boasts three players 6’10” or taller with senior Maurice Walker playing the most at 19.9 minutes per game and averaging an impressive 1.5 blocks in that limited time.
This is a very experienced team that did experience some success last year by winning the NIT, so they won’t scare easily. The press could provide problems, but on paper offensively, they look to be outgunned by this Maryland team.
What to watch for Maryland:
Layman’s presence: Besides putting forth a good effort on the boards with 9 rebounds, Jake Layman was essentially nonexistent against Sparty, going 2-4 for only 4 points. We’ve seen this the past few years with Layman where he looks ready for prime time right as the conference schedule is starting before receding back into being an average at best player. He’s played too well against good competition for me to chalk up the Michigan State game as anything more than just a blip on the radar, but a second straight no-show would definitely be cause for concern. He needs to assert himself early and get to the basket instead of fading into the background as a spot up shooter.
The press: I know I mentioned in the Minnesota section, but the game really swings on whether Maryland can consistently beat Minnesota’s pressure and get them into their half court defense (which is average at best). Dez and Trimble need to stay calm and make the right decisions under duress. If they do that, it’ll be tough for Minnesota’s offense to go basket for basket with the Terps.
The outside shooting: Layman may not be the guy to do it, but Maryland has to improve on Tuesday’s putrid performance from beyond the arc. With Trimble, Wells, and Layman all attacking there are always open looks from deep for players like Smotrcyz, Nickens, Pack, and Wiley. When half of that foursome is clicking, the Terps offense kicks up a couple notches and becomes incredibly difficult to stop.
Maryland – 81, Minnesota – 71
The combination of the poor performance at Michigan State and this being the first Big 10 home game should have this team pumped to come out and put forth a great effort. The press may bother Maryland a little early on, but I’m expecting a much better offensive performance than Tuesday, one that Minnesota won’t be able to contain enough to pull off the upset. See you all in the Top 10.