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Game Preview: no. 19 Rutgers at Maryland

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How to watch, stats, keys to victory, Steve Pikiell’s thoughts and much more.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

No. 19 Rutgers (4-0) At Maryland (4-1)

How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes

Where: XFINITY Center in College Park, Maryland

Tip-off: Monday, December 14 at 6 p.m. ET.

TV: BTN - Kevin Kugler and Stephen Bardo

Stream: BTN +

Radio: Live Listen - WCTC 1450 AM / WOR 710 / Sirius 137 / XM 195 - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM - Raj Shah and Dylan McCoy

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers is 28th, which is four spots higher since a 10 point win over Syracuse; Maryland is 40th, ten spots worse since a 16 point loss at Clemson.

Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 107.1 (55th) Defense 88.1 (13th); Maryland - Offense 109.9 (18th) Defense 92.8 (58th)

KenPom Prediction: Maryland 70 Rutgers 69; Rutgers is given a 47% chance to win.

OTB Guide to KenPom

Vegas Line: Maryland -2.5

Series History: Maryland leads 14-1 all-time but Rutgers won last season’s home finale, which is the last time the two programs faced each other.

Maryland SB Nation Site: Testudo Times

Key Contributors

Maryland - 6’5” Eric Ayala (13.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 58.5% FG, 40.0% 3-pt FG); 6’6” Hakim Hart (12.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 58.8% FG, 50% 3-pt FG); 6’7” Donta Scott (11.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 block, 69.0% FG, 61.3% 3-pt FG); 6’6” Aaron Wiggins (9.8 points, 3.4 assists, 3.2 rebounds); 6’8” Jarius Hamilton (8.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 37.5% 3-pt FG); 6’5” Darryl Morsell (8.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.0 block); 6’9” Galin Smith (6.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 75.0% FG)

Rutgers - 6’6” junior Ron Harper Jr. (22.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 60.3% FG, 45.8% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Montez Mathis (16.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 49.1% FG); 6’2” senior Jacob Young (16.0 points, 6.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 steals, 40.0% 3-pt FG); 6’10” redshirt junior Myles Johnson (8.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 1.0 assists, 60.9% FG); 6’11” Cliff Omoruyi (6.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 83.3% FG); 6’6” sophmore Paul Mulcahy (6.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 53.3% FG); 6’7” Mawot Mag (3.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 50.0% FG)

Injury Update: Geo Baker began practicing Saturday for the first time since he suffered a “bad ankle sprain” in the season opener on November 25. Per Jerry Carino, Pikiell said on Monday that Baker will suit up for tonight’s game.

About Maryland

Mark Turgeon is in his tenth season as head coach and led the Terps to a co-Big Ten championship last year. However, the two best players on that team were Jalen Smith and Anthony Cowan, both of whom are gone now. They’ve added two impact transfers, Galin Smith from Alabama and Jarius Hamilton from Boston College. However, Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins, last season’s Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year, are the leaders of this team. The most versatile player on the roster is Donta Scott, who can score inside and is shooting lights out from three to start the season.

The Terps shot the ball extremely well in their first four games against inferior competition before struggling in a 16 point loss on the road at Clemson last Wednesday. Although they are shooting 52.9% from the floor through five games, Maryland shot just 40.0% in the defeat to the Tigers.

They are very dangerous from behind the arc and are shooting 40.8% as a team from three-point range on 98 attempts. Scott (8 of 13) and Hakim Hart (9 of 18) have been the two best so far, but Ayala and Wiggins are very capable from deep. They are also shooting 70.9% from the foul line on 103 attempts.

Maryland is a talented team that is above average offensively but are turnover prone and have not been anything more than average on the defensive end so far. They have experimented with lineups so far this season and still finding out the right mix with a mostly seven man rotation. They have size at every position, similar to Rutgers.

Steve Pikiell Pregame Quotes

Preparation for Maryland

“We’ve just been hunkered down here and going over Maryland. We had a little bit of a crazy week here academically, but now we will really put a good focus into our practices here and be prepared for Maryland. They won our league last year, you guys know that and you also know that we’ve never won at Maryland. So it’s a huge test here coming up in our first league game and I feel like we will be well prepared.”

Maryland player analysis

“They brought in a couple transfers who are huge. Ayala is really talented. We tried to recruit him out of high school. I saw him play a ton and he is excellent. He started for (Maryland) last year too. He has been a huge key for them. I think Aaron Wiggins is a pro with how he plays and his game is built for the NBA. Morsell is probably the best glue guy in the conference. He defends. He guarded Geo last year, he guarded JY, he guarded Ron Harper. He’s as good a veteran player as there is.”

Strengths of Maryland

“Obviously coach Turgeon has won a gazillion games. Really good basketball team. League champs. We’re going to be tested. They shoot the three as well as any team in our league, maybe as well as any team in the country. They all have great size, (both) on the perimeter and upfront. Defensively they can cause some problems because you have to shoot over top of them. A lot of respect for that program and every year they win 20-25 games. This team will be no different this year.”

Keys To Victory

Contest Every Shot

Maryland can potentially play from ahead the entire game if they get into a groove from behind the arc early on. Rutgers can’t come out flat on the defensive end and allow any open looks because they could pay dearly. Closing out on shooters and not allowing long rebounds or second chance opportunities is key as well. Syracuse took a lot of bad shots against Rutgers and I don’t expect Maryland to do the same. RU needs to tighten up inside and not allow the guards to penetrate the way Syracuse did in the second half. The Scarlet Knights need their best defensive effort of the season to leave College Park victorious. If freshmen Cliff Omoruyi and Mawot Mag can contribute on the defensive end in their Big Ten debuts, it would be a big boost for Rutgers.

Ball Pressure

If Rutgers is able to deliver its best defensive performance so far this season, it will be in large part due to guards Montez Mathis and Jacob Young wrecking havoc with ball pressure on Wiggins and Ayala. Maryland got rattled against Clemson in their first challenging game, turning it over 10 times in the first half. They struggled with the Tigers denying passing lanes and they were unable to generate many good shots, finishing the first half with only 15 points.

Both teams have good size and length on the perimeter, but Rutgers is used to being aggressive and forcing opponents into mistakes. Another key will be Ron Harper Jr. defending Donta Scott, which will be an intriguing matchup. Scott was the only Terps player to score in double digits against Clemson and needs to be contained on Monday. Harper Jr. is more than capable and this game is a big test for him to prove he is a legitimate two-way star in the Big Ten.

Control Tempo

Speed kills and Rutgers has it in spades compared to Maryland. They need to utilize their quickness in getting the Terps on their heels and it starts with Jacob Young. He is a difference maker with his dribble penetration. His development as a ball distributor has been huge this season. He can break down the defense in the halfcourt and get the ball up the court quickly in transition. Whether it’s finding Ron Harper Jr. open behind the arc, Montez Mathis attacking the rim, or feeding Myles Johnson and Omoruyi inside, Young is the key to a balanced scoring attack. The more Rutgers can share the basketball and run in transition, the more effective they will be offensively.

Capitalize, Don’t Jeopardize

Rutgers missed far too many shots near the rim against Syracuse, particularly in the first half. They also had a stretch of several turnovers and several defensive lapses. This is a game in which Maryland can make them pay for all of the above. Being opportunistic on the offensive glass, limiting turnovers against a team that doesn’t force many, keeping their composure when the game is at a key juncture, staying out of foul trouble, and hitting free throws are all things the Scarlet Knights need to do well in order to win this game.

Closing Time

The veteran core of Rutgers showed how much they’ve learned with the way they closed out the win over Syracuse, even without Geo Baker. It was impressive and it’s clear the many battles this group went through the past couple of seasons has taught them how to close out games. Monday is another test and even though they’re no fans, it’s still a challenge to win on the road, especially against a team they haven’t had much success against previously and never beaten away from home. This is a game I think Rutgers should win but they could easily lose it if they don’t play well. How they close out the final stretch of the game will likely decide the result.

Appropriate Music Selection

I’m going to switch things up by not picking a live performance and instead featuring one of the best musical scores of all-time in Promontory, which was composed by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman. It’s from the classic soundtrack for The Last of the Mohicans and it’s featured in the climatic ending scene of the movie. Aside from how great the film and soundtrack are, this song is amazing and really captures the tension of the pursuit at the end. If you ever need some motivation on a run, hit play on this song.

The pursuit is what made me think of it for the Big Ten opener. While Tuesday’s win over Syracuse was big, now things get real. The Big Ten gauntlet has arrived. If Rutgers wants to at worst make the NCAA Tournament this season, while shooting to deliver the best year in program history, they need to have success in Big Ten play. I believe RU is a top 5 team in the conference, but in order to accomplish that they need to win games like this one. Maryland is no slouch, but I think Rutgers is the better team. If they want to be a nationally ranked team all season and ascend towards Big Ten elite, they have to find a way to win this one, with or without Baker. The pursuit for everything this team wants to accomplish begins at Maryland. Time to go get it.