Nearly two weeks ago, the Maryland Terrapins proved themselves to be a legitimate team against Butler.
They’ll have to prove it again Monday night.
Maryland makes the trip from Destin, Florida to New York to play Syracuse in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and there is a heavy emphasis on “challenge” for the Terps.
Maryland (6-1) suffered its first loss of the season at the hands of the St. Bonaventure Bona Wolves, 63-61, last Friday as part of the Emerald Coast Classic.
It was the first time Maryland had a subpar performance on the court all year. The team shot poorly from 3-point range, and their turnovers — which have been an area of concern all season — led to 20 St. Bonaventure points.
Maryland didn’t wait long to turn those stats around, though, as it handled New Mexico 80-65 the next day. Maryland shot 8-of-15 from beyond the arc against New Mexico, and Anthony Cowan led all scorers with 21 points.
Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon was happy with the improvement.
“I’m really proud of how my team responded,” he said. “It was a short turnaround but we came out with a lot of energy.”
The Terps will need more of that if they hope to upend Syracuse.
A team that has beaten opponents by an average of more than 17 points, Syracuse (5-0) is an efficient offensive team that scores from a variety of places on the court. The Orange average 75 points a game, and it is filled with players who are efficient free throw shooters and rebounders.
Syracuse has three main offensive contributors — Tyus Battle, Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett. Battle, who averages 20 points a game, is a proficient ball handler. He has just five turnovers so far this season, and he’s proven to be an effective defender with eight steals, which leads the team. All three of them can shoot the three with ease: Howard leads the team in 3-pointers with 36.8 percent of his shots finding the bottom of the basket, but Battle and Brissett are also above 30 percent from long range, as well.
Matchups are going to be critical for the Terps. Sophomores Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Cowan will dictate a large portion of the game. If at least two of the three have similar performances to the ones they had against Butler, Maryland will be tougher than anything Syracuse has faced up to this point.
Another big factor will be how freshman Bruno Fernando does in his first matchup against an ACC opponent. Fernando averages 10 points and five rebounds, but his contribution has come from blocked shots, which he has 16 of in the first seven games.
Syracuse’s Pashcal Chukwu also has 16 blocks this season. The Orange use Chukwu is used in a similar role, so it will be interesting to see whether Fernando or Chukwu will have the better game.
Syracuse does not turn over the ball much. With 57 turnovers through five games, they have less than half as many as Maryland (120). Maryland has been careless with the ball in a few games this season. If it does the same against Syracuse, it will be a tough matchup.
If, however, the Terps can keep their momentum from Saturday night, they have a shot at adding another win to their early-season NCAA Tournament resume.