The Maryland Terrapins were all positive following their win over Penn State Tuesday night.
The Terps had fought with the Nittany Lions all night. After Penn State took the took the lead at the end of the first half, Maryland found itself down six points with less than five minutes remaining.
In similar fashion against other big opponents this year, Maryland kept the score close, but this time, the Terps pulled out the win thanks in part to a game-tying three by freshman guard Darryl Morsell.
“I was just proud of the guys,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said after the game. “Penn State came in with confidence, made some shots and we kept battling and battling and we figured out a way to win it. They’re much more confident than they were 24 hours ago. Yeah, this was big for us.”
But underneath all the positivity and optimism, the question of how prepared the team was going to be for Michigan State lingered.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity for us,” said freshman forward Bruno Fernando. “They’re a great team. We’re just going to try to come out there and be ourselves. We have the chance to play a No. 1 team, so it’s great for us.”
Regardless of the ranking, Maryland will get a chance to see how it stacks up against one of the best teams in the country when it plays the Spartans in East Lansing, Michigan, Thursday night.
Michigan State is at the top of the AP Top 25 for the first time this season after previously No. 1 ranked Villanova lost to the Butler Bulldogs, but the Spartans have been near the top since the season began. They were ranked No. 2 in the preseason, and they have remained in the Top 5 up to this point.
With only four freshmen on the roster, the Spartans are an experienced team that have earned the right to be named the best in the country. They shoot 53 percent from the floor, which is a dangerous statistic in itself, but they also shoot 41 percent from 3-point range, making them a deadly team that can score from inside and out.
As far as an NCAA Tournament resume, Michigan State has already recorded a number of quality wins, including a 12-point victory against Georgia; and blowout wins against UConn, North Carolina and Notre Dame. What’s more, it has an undefeated Big Ten record and averages 74 points in conference play.
In short, Michigan State should be favored in most of its games this year, and deservedly so.
As it stands, Michigan State is favored by 13.5 points against Maryland, putting the Terps squarely in the underdog role.
There are, however, steps the Terps can take to pull off an upset, and that starts with keeping Spartans’ sophomore forward Nick Ward in check. The 6-foot-8 player has been on a hot streak since December, averaging 21.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in the past two games. He has also rarely missed a shot in that stretch, making 16-of-17 shots in those games and 32-of-34 in the past four games.
Ward will demand Maryland’s best defender, and that might mean seeing a lot of Fernando matched up with him. Ward contributes a big portion of Michigan State’s offense so slowing him will put a big hole in the Spartans’ game plan.
Averaging 31.7 rebounds a game, Michigan State is also one of the few teams in the conference that can actually compete with the Terps on the boards. This is a stat on the box score the Terps need to win. Despite sophomore forward Justin Jackson — the team’s best rebounder — being out with a torn labrum, Maryland didn’t show any dip in production in its first game without him, recording 38 rebounds in their win over Penn State. Whichever team gets the most rebounds in this game will have a distinct advantage.
In addition to being experienced, Michigan State is also an big team. All but seven of the team’s 16-man roster are above 6 fet 5 inches tall. It will be a good chance to see how Maryland’s bigs will fare against such a daunting task.
Maryland had to reinvent itself Tuesday night with Jackson and Ivan Bender lost for the year to injury. It seemed to work against the Nittany Lions; now the team will see how it works against a steep increase in competition.
The Terps could add a quality win to their NCAA Tournament resume with an upset in East Lansing, Michigan. Tipoff will be at 8 p.m.