How To Watch & Listen
Maryland (22-7; 10-6) At Rutgers (13-16; 2-14)
Where: The RAC
Tip-off: Tuesday, February 28th at 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Brandon Gaudin and Dan Bonner
Radio: WCTC 1450 AM & WOR 710 AM - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #125; Maryland #46
KenPom Prediction: Maryland 69 Rutgers 65; Rutgers is given a 36% chance of winning.
Series History: Maryland leads the all-time series 7-3 and they have won 5 straight, including a 67-55 win last month.
After a program best 20-2 start to the season, the Terps have dropped back to earth with 3 consecutive losses and have now fallen in 5 of their last 7 games total. I think this is less of a collapse and more of a natural balancing out for this team, who had exceeded expectations this season before their recent slump. Maryland is a good offensive team, but they are turnover prone and just average on the boards. They are solid on the defensive end, but they do surrender a lot of offensive rebounds to their opponents. Here are key players to watch for in tonight’s game:
Melo Trimble - The All-Big Ten guard has been great for most of this season and leads the Terps in scoring with 17.1 points per game. Trimble also averages 3.6 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.1 steals. He is also far and away their best free throw shooter, hitting 80% from the line. After combining to score 59 points in back to back games versus Northwestern and Wisconsin, he has struggled mightily in his last two games, both losses. He comes in shooting just 8 of 25 from the field for 32%, including just 2 of 15 from three point range for 13%. How he comes out shooting tonight will be a major key in the game.
Justin Jackson - The freshman forward is second on the team in scoring with 10.7 points per game and is their leading rebounder with 6.2 boards per game. Rutgers needs to account for him from behind the arc as well, as he is shooting a team best 45% from three-point range on 91 attempts.
Anthony Cowan - Also a freshman, the 6’0” guard has been solid as well, averaging 10.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. Other than Trimble, he is the only other Terp player who shoots above 70% from the charity stripe, as he is averaging 77% from the line.
Kevin Huerter - The third freshman starting for coach Mark Turgeon is Huerter, who has put together a balanced line of 8.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. He also shoots the most three’s besides Trimble and is hitting at a 37% clip on 151 attempts.
Damonte Dodd - The big bodied senior caused Rutgers problems in their first meeting, when he put up a stat line of 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 blocks. With 7’1” Slovakian center Michal Cekovsky out after having ankle surgery, Dodd will be a key matchup against CJ Gettys in the paint.
Keys To The Game
With Maryland in a slump, expect them to come out with urgency tonight in hopes of getting back on track with a win. They are typically slow starters, but so is Rutgers. For once, can this team come out of the gates and build a quick lead? I think it’s very important they do, both to build confidence and to put pressure on the Terps. One aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked in Rutgers failing to close out Northwestern and Michigan, both four point losses, is they had to mount big comebacks in each game. That is taxing to do and I think part of the reason they seemed to run out of gas and had trouble executing down the stretch. If they can establish an early lead, they’ll have an opportunity to seize control of the game.
Back To Basics
Although Rutgers is a much improved rebounding team, they’ve been out-rebounded in 3 of their last 4 games. Rebounding is part of this team’s identity and when they lose the battle on the glass, it hurts them on both ends of the floor. The good news is that opponents are pulling down offensive boards at a 33.2% clip against Maryland, which is the second worst rate in the conference. Rutgers needs to get back to their bread and butter tonight. They grabbed 22 offensive rebounds, compared to just 12 for the Terps in their first meeting. If they can get their mojo back on the boards, it will go a long way in giving them a chance in this game.
Make Shots Near Rim
I understand the frustration regarding missed free throws and it was a major factor in their loss to Maryland last month, when Rutgers shot just 10 of 24 for 42% from the line. It certainly changed the dynamic of that game and prevented them from really threatening the Terps. However, in that contest and most of conference action this season, Rutgers misses far too many shots within 5-7 feet of the rim. They are shooting an abysmal 40.9% from 2-point range in Big Ten play. The next worse team is Penn State at 45.4%. Mind you, Rutgers is shooting 44.5% for the season overall, which ranks 329th out of 351 teams in the country. In the first Maryland game, they outscored them 19-11 in second chance points, but they should have had close to 30. They have to take advantage of putback opportunities generated from offensive rebounds and they need to make layups. Sounds simple, but it’s been an issue all season.
Win Turnover Battle
As I highlighted here, Rutgers has made dramatic improvement in reducing turnovers the past five games, averaging less than 10 per contest during that stretch. It’s the biggest reason they have become so much more competitive, as four of their past five losses have come by single digits. They are no longer giving their opponents easy baskets in transition due to costly turnovers and it must continue. Rutgers forced Maryland into committing 18 turnovers in the first meeting, but the Scarlet Knights coughed it up 15 times themselves. If they can come close to forcing Maryland into 15+ turnovers tonight, while keeping their own at around 10 or under, they’ll have a huge advantage.
Win Free Throw Battle (Yes, It’s Possible)
There may be hope that Rutgers is climbing out of their season long brick party at the free throw line. They were an impressive 10 of 13 for 77% in their last game against Michigan. The Wolverines are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the conference, but they struggled, shooting just 14 of 23 for 61%. The good news is that Maryland isn’t nearly as good, ranking just 12th in the Big Ten from the line. Rutgers needs to maintain their focus and shoot at a higher clip from the line, in order to win this game. Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press had this great profile yesterday on how Rutgers is getting less calls at home in Big Ten play, which is a rarity. We shouldn’t expect tonight to be any different, so they need to take advantage of every opportunity from the line.
In The Bonus
Rutgers hasn’t played since last Wednesday, which has given them time to rest, recuperate, and recover somewhat from a tough five game stretch in which they battled in every game. They’ll have back to back home games at the RAC for the first time since early December. Head coach Steve Pikiell has had 5 days to plan and prepare his team for this rematch. On the flip side, Maryland suffered two double digit losses at home during that same stretch of time. Rutgers has a major opportunity tonight to finally break through with a signature win. They’ve been close a few times this season, but they are running out of chances to do it. This game is a blackout with Rutgers wearing their “Dark Knight” uniforms, so hopefully the fans are ready to rock the RAC tonight. With just Illinois left in the regular season on Saturday, followed by the Big Ten tournament next week, it’s becoming now or never time for this team to take a true step forward with some wins down the stretch. Let’s hope they can put it all together tonight and add to the misery of Maryland fans everywhere!