The Maryland Terrapins have exceeded expectations this season, sitting at 17th in the country entering the third week of December. While the rest of the students will be on break, the Men’s Basketball team will face the most important stretch of games the program has seen in nearly four years.
However, before the Terrapins get to those games, they still have one of their toughest out of conference tests in their first “true” road game of the season. The Terps travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to take on a 9-1 Oklahoma State team, recently coming off of a horrifying 75-49 loss to South Carolina. The Cowboys feature senior swingman Le’Bryan Nash (17.6 ppg) and junior guard Phil Forte III (17.5 ppg), who the Terps will have to contain if they wish to get a quality résumé win over another Big 12 team. Look for a bigger lineup from the Terrapins with Nash in the game. They will most likely pit Jake Layman against him, as they match up quite well in size and athleticism. Maryland will also have a decent size advantage over the Cowboys, as Oklahoma State’s two tallest players don’t get the minutes Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky receive. However, if the Iowa State game was any indicator of how physically the Big 12 plays, the Terps will not have a cake-walk in the rebounding department; the Cowboys are currently 20th in the nation in defensive rebounds. This game will likely feature an inside-out offense of the guards going low for the ball, then kicking it out on the perimeters. With senior Evan Smotrycz having returned from a foot/ankle injury, Maryland should be able to space the floor well. In his first game and a half this season, Smotrycz moved the ball very well, putting up four assists in 30 minutes, a noticeable change from his heavily scrutinized “shoot first” mindset from a year ago. However in the two games after re-injuring the ankle, he seems to have receded into this mindset. A lot of Maryland’s success will ride on Evan’s decision making on the offensive end.
The Terps then return home to face their final “warm-up” game against a sub .500 Oakland team that should not pose too much of a problem for the Terrapins. If all goes according to plan, Dez Wells’ broken wrist will be healed for this game. If it is, expect limited minutes as Wells will not be in game shape, and will not want to further the injury before conference play. Hopefully they do not look too far in front of Oakland, as Maryland has slipped up a bit when playing the mid-majors, even trailing to VMI, Winthrop, Monmouth and Fordham.
Should Maryland pull out another résumé galvanizing win in the Midwest, and win handily against Oakland, their pre-conference schedule will be as perfect as can be. With only one loss to a team they were expected to lose to, the pre-conference warm-ups can be considered a huge success and a real turnaround in the program under Turgeon.
In between all of the games, also be on the lookout for Terps recruiting, with big-man Yankuba Sima expected to pick a school sometime in the near future, possibly over break. The Terrapins appear to be the leaders to land the lanky 6-10 Spaniard.
Unlike the ACC, where the Terps would usually see an unripe Boston College in the middle of non-conference play, the B1G withholds conference games until the formal conference schedule begins. The Terps get their first chance at a storied B1G program on December 30th, as they venture to East Lansing to face Michigan State. The usual mantra for Tom Izzo coached teams is they get good when it matters (i.e. March). Fortunately for Maryland, State isn’t anywhere near its expectations at the moment, and is ranked 25th by the coaches and is 22nd in the AP. However, Izzo’s teams also rise to the occasion when needed, so this will be no cakewalk, especially in Michigan.
The Terps’ inaugural B1G home game comes next against a Minnesota team with some quality wins, as they easily handled Wake Forrest and squeaked one out against Georgia. Unfortunately this game will be during break, meaning a smaller attendance in the student section. But with the parameters of the first home B1G game, Maryland should rise to the occasion. They then travel to Illinois and Purdue, and then return to College Park to face other B1G newcomer Rutgers. All three are very winnable games for Maryland, and will be televised on BTN. The Terrapins then return to primetime on CBS, as they host Michigan State, a game that will see the Spartans’ first trip to the Comcast Xfinity Center. It should be a special game for Maryland fans, with their first look at a basketball powerhouse from the B1G. The Terps then fly to Bloomington to take on the embattled Hoosiers, in a rematch of the 2002 National Championship (hallowed be thy name). The Hoosiers have been on the downswing since the 2012 season, with some Hoosier fans calling for Tom Crean’s job. Hopefully the Terrapins can put a nail in that coffin with a statement win in Assembly Hall. The game will be on ESPNU, with another chance for the Terps to garner national exposure. The final game before classes start is a Sunday night battle with Northwestern, a team Maryland beat on the road two years ago in the ACC/B1G challenge. However, most students should be back on campus for this game; a 7:30 bout that should see a Maryland team fresh off a relatively weaker part of the B1G.
So what do we expect will happen in this winter break stretch of games? With the way the Terrapins are playing, they could win each of these games. The B1G is pretty weak at the top, excluding top-5 Wisconsin and an Ohio State team lingering in the top-15. The B1G features many basketball schools with some of the most raucous crowds in the country. Fortunately for the young Terps, with 4 freshmen who have not seen a hostile crowd yet, winter break might declaw the venues and add some composure to an already composed team. With increasingly physical big men and the return of a hungry Dez Wells, Maryland could potentially end winter break in the top-12 with a flawless stretch of games. Tune in to see what happens next with this very exciting young bunch of players and a coach experiencing his first taste of real success in College Park.
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- No. 17 ECU Takes Care of Terps to Start Series - March 16, 2019