How To Watch & Listen
Rutgers (13-15; 3-12) At Maryland (17-11; 6-9)
Where: XFinity Center in College Park, Maryland (capacity 17,950)
Tip-off: Saturday, February 17th at 8:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Brandon Gaudin & Bob Wenzel
Radio: WCTC 1450 AM, WOR 710 AM - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM
(Note: Rutgers Moved Up 7 spots since the overtime win over Northwestern)
KenPom Prediction: Maryland 70, Rutgers 58; Rutgers has an 13% chance to win
Vegas Line: Maryland -12.5
Series History: Maryland leads the all-time series 8-3, with six straight wins
SB Nation Maryland site: Testudo Times
On the surface, the Terrapins aren’t having an awful season. They rank 39th on KenPom, stand at 17-11 and are 14-2 at home on the season. But go on any Maryland fan message board and you’d think the sky is falling.
Obviously, the same can be said for most programs across the country, but rarely will you see such despair from the fan base of a team sitting right on the edge of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Needless to say, this is a team that’s used to winning — and that’s what it needs to do for the next two weeks if it hopes to be playing in the NCAA Tournament come March.
Much of the blame is placed on head coach Mark Turgeon, who is in his seventh season at the helm in College Park, so much so that a term for late-collapses by the Terrapins has been made in his honor. Losing to Rutgers may be the quintessential example of Turgeoning and would certainly mark the end of Maryland’s hopes of reaching its fourth straight NCAA Tournament.
While criticism of Turgeon is fair — Maryland is 3-9 away from home, has a lone Quadrant 1 win came over Butler at home, with its lone Quadrant 2 win coming over Penn State at home — the head coach has had some bad luck with injuries. Sophomore starting forward Justin Jackson — arguably his best and most important player — played just 11 games before suffering a torn labrum that ended his season. His junior frontcourt mate Ivan Bender survived 14 games before a torn meniscus sidelined him for the remainder of the year.
Even without two of its best players, Maryland’s advanced statistics are solid. The Terrapins average 74.7 points per game behind the 30th most efficient offense in the country, per KenPom, and the second-best free throw percentage in the Big Ten at exactly 75 percent. Defensively, the Terps rank a modest 66th in effeciency on KenPom, allowing a 67.2 points per contest.
The lone area that stands out as a negative is turnovers. Maryland struggles both to create turnovers and to not commit them, ranking in the bottom third in the country in either category.
Here are per game statistical averages for key players on Maryland:
6’0” sophomore guard Anthony Cowan - 15.9 points, 5.1 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals
6’7” sophomore forward Kevin Huerter - 14.7 points on 43.7% shooting from 3, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists
6’10” freshman forward Bruno Fernando - 9.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks
6’4” freshman guard Darryl Morsell - 9.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists
7’1” senior center Michal Cekovsky - 6.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.1 blocks
6’4” junior guard Dion Wiley - 5.7 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.7 assists
Know Your Three-Point Shooters:
Kevin Huerter - 68 of 156 for 43.7%
Jared Nickens - 42 of 95 for 44.2%
Dion Wiley - 33 of 80 for 41.3%
Anthony Cowan - 50 of 133 for 37.6%
Rutgers is 11th nationally in offensive rebounding (13.64), 15th in scoring defense (63.7) and 19th in rebounding (39.75). The Scarlet Knights have the third most difficult conference schedule in the Big Ten and are ranked 15th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom analysis. … The Scarlet Knights welcomed back glue-guys Eugene Omoruyi and Mike Williams a week ago in Lincoln, Nebraska. Despite their recent and quick returns from injury, the tandem combined for 57 minutes in a win over Northwestern, with Omoruyi making his first career start against the Wildcats.
Keys To Victory
Kick Them While They’re Down
Both teams enter Saturday’s contest on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.
The Scarlet Knights travel down I-95 coming off a thrilling come-from-behind overtime win against Northwestern in which they closed the contest on a 32-13 run. The win snapped a seven-game losing streak as Rutgers showed signs of life once again behind strong performances from Omoruyi and Williams. As the saying goes, winning is infectious. The locker room was buzzing after the win and confidence is the highest its been around the program in quite some time.
Meanwhile, Maryland returns home after a crushing loss to Nebraska in Lincoln, its seventh straight road loss in Big Ten play. Already on the edge of the bubble, the Terps needed the win to maintain themselves in the thick of the NCAA Tournament run. The game was their last real road test before the postseason begins in a couple of weeks, an opportunity to boost their resume they left on the table. It leaves running the table at the Big Ten Tournament later this month as the only real chance to make the NCAA Tournament, making the final three games of the regular season essentially calendar fillers.
Now, they welcome a lose-lose situation in Rutgers. Beat the Scarlet Knights and it does little to move the needle — they’re supposed to defeat Rutgers, after all. Lose to the Scarlet Knights, and risk falling even deeper in the hole of a disappointing season. The Terrapins are playing for pride at this point in the season — will that be enough?
That’s where the Scarlet Knights have to take advantage. Rarely have they gotten off to starts that felt insurmountable for the opponent, but if there was ever the time for it, Saturday’s game is it.
Get Deshawn Freeman In The Mix
Head coach Steve Pikiell showed he’s not afraid to put the program over any single player on multiple occasions in his two-year tenure at Rutgers, and Tuesday was another example. Despite being dressed and available, senior captain Deshawn Freeman didn’t play a single second in the Scarlet Knights win over Northwestern. Pikiell pinned the selection as a strategic one, which felt more like him protecting his player than the truth. Nevertheless, it showed Pikiell isn’t afraid to bench his second-leading scorer regardless of the reason.
Assuming the single-game sitdown was enough punishment to serve Freeman’s crime, the senior forward should see his usual number of minutes against the Terrapins. It’s crucial to get him touches in the post early for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, he needs to get back into his rhythm early to establish some offense for Rutgers in order for the Scarlet Knights to get off to the aformentioned fast start. But more importantly, the more he gets the ball in the post, the more likely he is to get Cekovsky and Fernando to pick up fouls. The starting frontcourt are Maryland two lone dependable bigs — get them in foul trouble and the Scarlet Knights will have a lot less to worry about on both ends of the floor.
On a similar note, if you’ll indulge me for a second, I’m going to put on my tinfoil hat and speculate for a second. Let’s assume Pikiell was telling the truth (to be fair to him, there’s no reason to suspect he’s not) and sat Freeman for basketball reasons. Fans have complained about Freeman’s selfishness on offense and how the ball seems to stick in his hands when he receives it. Perhaps that was something Pikiell addressed multiple times and it just didn’t get through to Freeman, so much so it required Pikiell to teach him a lesson by benching him. If the message gets through and Freeman becomes more willing to spread the wealth on offense, it may be the key to unlock what has been one of the worst offenses in major conference college basketball history.
Just to be clear and so everyone is on the same page, the above paragraph is purely speculation. I didn’t hear anything from anyone that remotely resembles that — I’m simply taking what Pikiell said in his post-game press conference on Tuesday and running with it.
Defend The Perimeter
Maryland’s two offensive strengths are plainly laid out for all to see — free throw shooting and 3-point shooting. Rutgers has seen the whistle go against it many times this season, something PIkiell indirectly hinted at after a loss to Purdue, but that is something they simply can’t control.
And so, the next best thing they can control is how they guard the perimeter. Kevin Huerter is a certified baller from beyond the arc, something his percentages fail to capture. It’s not just that he’s shooting at a very solid 43.7 percent rate that makes him so dangerous — its the type of tough shots he consistently hits. No game exemplified his strengths more than an early season loss to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.
Huerter was unconscious on the night, almost single-handidly bringing Maryland to victory in a tough environment. For good measure, here’s a look at a deeeeeeep three he hit against Northwestern at the Big Ten Tournament last year.
Huerter is a baller, but he’s not the only one. Anthony Cowan has a solid stroke from three as well, knocking down his deep shots at a 37.6 percent clip. He’s joined by Dion Wiley at 41.3 percent and Jared Nickens — a New Jersey native who torched Rutgers in his first meeting with them in the form of a 4-for-7 shooting night from downtown — at 44.2 percent.
If the Scarlet Knights don’t double down on the perimeter and force the Terps to make tough shots from three, the game could be over before it really starts.
In The Bonus
Maryland expects to receive two recent program legends on Saturday.
Portland Trail Blazer Jake Layman takes advantage of the NBA All-Star break to return to his alma mater, where he averaged 10.2 points and 5.3 boards across his four seasons in College Park. In three games against Rutgers, Layman averaged 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds.
He’ll be joined by teammate Melo Trimble, who found time between games for the Iowa Wolves of the NBA G-League. Once considered a first-round NBA prospect, Trimble’s professional prospects didn’t live out as was expected early in his Terrapins career. Ask Rutgers fans, though, and they’ll tell you how he torched the Scarlet Knights in five wins over them where he averaged 10.6 points, 3.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds per contest.
As for Rutgers, it will need to build on the momentum of its emotional midweek win over Northwestern and take it with them to one of the best environments it will see all season. Maryland is 14-2 at home this season, with the only two losses coming to Michigan State and Purdue — which, in case you forgot, are two teams Rutgers came close to upsetting.
Selfishly, I’m looking forward to watching the Terrapins student section drop the state flag — the coolest one by far — during one of the first media timeouts. Easily the best tradition I’ve witnessed in my travels across the Big Ten. I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing it twice and I can’t wait for the third.