Maryland (13-10; 7-9) at Rutgers (12-8; 8-8)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey
Tip-off: Sunday, February 21 at 3:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Kevin Kugler and Brian Butch
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers is 26, which is the same as before a 7 point loss at Michigan on Thursday. Maryland is 33, which is one spot worse since a 8 point win over Nebraska on Wednesday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 111.1 (56th) Defense 90.5 (13th); Maryland Offense 111.7 (48th) Defense 93.7 (34th)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 67 Maryland 63. Rutgers is given a 64% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -4.5
Series History: Maryland leads the all-time series 11-5, but Rutgers has won the past two meetings including a 74-60 road win this season on December
Maryland SB Nation Site: Testudo Times
Maryland - 6’5” junior Eric Ayala (14.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 35.6% 3-pt FG); 6’6” junior Aaron Wiggins (13.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 32.7% 3-pt FG); 6’7” sophomore Donta Scott (11.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 51.9% FG, 45.3% 3-pt FG); 6’5” senior Darryl Morsell (8.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists); 6’6” sophomore Hakim Hart (7.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 32.4% 3-pt FG); 6’8” junior Jarius Hamilton (7.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 41.2% 3-pt FG); 6’9” Galin Smith (4.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 58.8% FG)
Rutgers - 6’6” junior Ron Harper Jr. (16.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 32.4% 3-pt FG); 6’2” senior Jacob Young (14.2 points, 3.4 assists, 1.9 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 40.4% 3-pt FG); 6’4” Geo Baker (9.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals); 6’4” junior Montez Mathis (9.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 34.5 % 3-pt FG); 6’10” redshirt junior Myles Johnson (8.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 1.2 steals, 67.0% FG); 6’7” junior Caleb McConnell (6.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.6 steals); 6’6” sophomore Paul Mulcahy (5.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 37.1% 3-pt FG); 6’11” Cliff Omoruyi (4.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 68.4% FG)
Neither team has any significant injury issues.
Mark Turgeon’s team has had an up and down season, but are in the midst of a three game winning streak and clinging on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. However, those wins came at home against Minnesota, who is winless on the road, and back to back games against Nebraska on consecutive days due to previous postponement with COVID-19, a team that has just one Big Ten win. That’s not to say the Terps aren’t capable of continuing its winning ways, as they have impressive victories over Illinois (KenPom no. 5) and Wisconsin (KenPom no. 15) on the road, as well as Purdue (KenPom no. 19) at home. They also beat Minnesota (KenPom no. 50) on the road, which was previously the Gophers only home loss all season before they were blown out by the Illini on Saturday.
Maryland is averaging 69.7 points per game and allowing 65.6 points per contest. They are shooting 45.7% from the floor, 35.4% from three-point range and 69.7% from the free throw line. The Terps are 26th nationally in three-pointers made, but are 16th nationally in personal fouls per game (14.8) and 28th in turnovers per game (11.1).
In Big Ten play, they are 11th in offensive efficiency and 6th in defensive efficiency. Offensively, Maryland is 5th in effective field goal percentage, as well as sixth in both turnover rate and three-point shooting percentage. However, they are 11th in free throw shooting percentage and 13th in both offensive rebounding rate and tempo. Defensively, the Terps are 1st in opponent offensive rebounding rate and are 4th in both free throw rate and two-point field goal percentage. On the flip side, they are 10th in turnover rate and 11th in opponent three-point field goal percentage.
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 this season. Maryland plays a seven man rotation and is reliant on making threes to create consistent offense. They have size at most positions except inside, as the Terps rotation stands between 6’5” and 6’8”. Like Rutgers, they are battle tested and currently have the 11th hardest strength of schedule this season per KenPom.
Rutgers is averaging 71.5 points per game and they are allowing 68.1 points per contest. Overall, the Scarlet Knights are shooting 45.8% from the floor, 32.3%from three-point range and 61.6% from the foul line. In Big Ten play, they are currently 7th in offensive efficiency and 5th in defensive efficiency. Offensively, while they are 3rd in turnover rate and 6th in two-point shooting percentage, they rank 12th in free throw rate and 13th in free throw shooting percentage. Defensively, Rutgers has the best steal rate and block rate, as well as 2nd in turnover rate and 4th in effective field goal percentage defense. However, they are 13th in opponent offensive rebounding rate. Rutgers’ strength of schedule is ranked third nationally per KenPom.
Keys To Victory
Stopping Maryland from behind the arc is very important and something Rutgers was successful in doing in the first meeting, holding them to just 4 of 20 from deep. While the Terps have lost three games to elite or very good offenses even when they’ve made double digit threes on 34% shooting or better against Michigan, Iowa and Purdue, they only won once in Big Ten play making less than 34% from three and that was against Nebraska on Tuesday. Recognition and closing out shooters is hugely important, as they’ve take more threes than twos in six conference games this season, including both games against Nebraska earlier this week. Maryland likes to play a slow grind type of pace, so they are easier to defend as they rarely get looks from behind the arc in transition.
Ball pressure on Maryland’s guards will be key as well. It doesn’t necessarily have to force turnovers, as the Terps committed just 9 in the first meeting, but that pressure needs to make it harder for them to get their halfcourt offense started during possessions and force them to shoot late in the shot clock. Jacob Young and Montez Mathis (two steals each in first game) have a chance to be very effective on the defensive end, as does Caleb McConnell, who didn’t play in the first game at Maryland. Their offense runs through the starting trio along the perimeter of Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell. They combined to shoot 9 of 32 from the floor and 0 of 11 from three back in December. That might be hard to do again, but containing that group is a key to victory.
Establishing the paint on offense early in this game is important and Myles Johnson had a monster performance in the first meeting. He finished with 10 points on 4 of 4 shooting, as well as 16 rebounds and 3 blocks, despite picking up 4 fouls. Getting Johnson more than 4 shots in this game is imperative, as is Ron Harper Jr. attacking the rim off the bounce. Maryland is not a physical team and has trouble defending without fouling. Take the game to them inside and let that dictate the action. Open looks from three will be there like the first game, when Rutgers was 9 of 19 for 47.3% from deep. However, RU has only shot above 35% from behind the arc in three of its last eleven games.
I think this is a game they can break out, but forcing three-point shots in the first ten minutes will prevent them from getting into an offensive flow. Geo Baker needs to lead this team in making sure they share the ball and remain patient in the halfcourt offense. Of course, Rutgers will make things a lot easier for themselves if they can finish near the rim at a high clip. Young could wreck havoc creating off of penetration in this game, but he has to stay under control and not turn the ball over in bunches. He has the ability to get to the rim quickly but could also be key in finding teammates open from behind the arc when he drives.
Maryland is Jekyll and Hyde on the boards, as they aren’t strong on the offensive glass, but are great at preventing opponents from having success in that area. Rutgers has been just okay on the offensive glass, but have gotten burned (13th) by opponents in this facet. The first game was a wash with both teams grabbing 38 rebounds, as RU had 8 offensive boards and Maryland grabbed 12, which led to a 14-6 advantage in second chance points. If one team can capitalize and turn offensive boards into second chance points more than the other, it will be a big advantage.
The bottom line is this is a game that not only should Rutgers win if they play at the level they have of late on the defensive end, but one that might not even be close if they play smart on offense. Of course, if Rutgers falls into a shootout with Maryland by chucking threes and getting one shot possessions, while leaving shooter open along the perimeter, they could easily lose this game. Thursday’s loss at Michigan was hard fought and not really discouraging, as it was just the third time an opponent only fell by single digits in the 15 victories by the Wolverines. However, the maturity and character of this team needs to shine through on Sunday to pickup a much needed win that puts them one giant step closer to the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid in 30 years.
Appropriate Music Selection
For the twenty first game of the season, I selected “When My Time Comes” by Dawes. One of my favorite songs ever is extremely relevant to the importance of this game. My favorite lyrics that capture what’s on the line here is “I wanted to pay for my successes with all my defeats” and a play on a famous Nietzsche quote with “Yes you can stare into the abyss, but it’s staring right back.”
Rutgers has made a long journey and their time has finally come. This is the biggest home stand in years and while it’s heartbreaking fans can’t be there, it doesn’t take away from the significance of the opportunity in front of them. Beat Maryland on Sunday and they basically need to win one of the final three games of the regular season to be on solid footing for an NCAA Tournament bid. Of course we hope they can go at worst 3-1 in the four games ahead, but to do that you have to win this one. Sweeping Maryland and ensuring an insurmountable lead over them in the Big Ten standings is important too.
This core group has been through a lot the past three years, including a five game losing streak only a month ago. The moment for them to fulfill their goals and dreams is on the table for them, but it’s time to seize them. I firmly believe they are better than Maryland and matchup really well against them. However, Rutgers has to prove they learned from the January swoon and are a better team for it as the stretch run of this season begins.
Play as a team, defend for forty minutes, don’t force it on offense and get one game closer to the Big Dance.