Maryland March to the Tournament: Predictions for the end of season
It has already been a heck of a season. After derailing Purdue on Tuesday, the Terps have four wins against ranked opponents, played more quad 1 games (12) than any other team in the country, played the third toughest schedule in the country and are entering the final eight games of their season before tournaments begin.
This writer has seen gray hairs go from appropriately socially distanced by CDC guidelines to a full-on super spreader event over the course of the Big 10 schedule. From missed open jumpers, watching Galin Smith and Chol Marial attempt to stop NBA players in college uniforms, and Eric Ayala sinking free throws to win against Purdue with three seconds left in the game, we remember why we suffer and soar through a season…and why we always come back for more.
While there are no guarantees this time of year, Maryland currently sits at 37 in the overall Net Rankings and should be sitting around a 12/13 seed if the tournament started tomorrow. The Terps have played just above .500 basketball this season with a 9-8 overall record but will need to win more consistently to see themselves playing extra basketball in March.
The gauntlet of the Big 10 is over, and Maryland will be favored in most of their remaining schedule. Their three toughest opponents remaining are #7 Ohio State, Minnesota, and Rutgers but should expect to win against Nebraska, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Penn State twice.
Here are my three scenarios for the Terps to end their season.
Worst Case Scenario: 3-5 finish, knocked out in first game of Big 10 Tournament and all Shell breaks loose.
Die by the three. Maryland has lived and died from beyond the arc this season. With no interior scoring options, Maryland has relied on dribble penetration and open jumpers to compress their oppositions defense and give space for their shooters on the outside.
Against Purdue, Maryland was a tale of two halves from the arc. In the first half they were 1-of-12 from three-point range and entered halftime down by three in large part to their defense that kept them in the game by deflecting interior passes and collecting more steals than we are used to seeing from the Terps squad. However, they managed to sink 8-of-13 in the second half to increase their offensive production from twenty-four to thirty-seven points to finish the game shooting 36% from three and find victory in the final seconds. If the first half shooting shows up more often than the second, it will be a hard fall from grace. Open shots will clang wide and the ball will bounce Maryland right out of contention.
While the Terps defense has been a pleasant surprise this season. Maryland appears to have lost faith in their only shot blocker Chol Marial and are forced to double team the post while looking to steal the interior pass. We have witnessed big men feast near the rim against Maryland. That style of play can wear down the legs at the end of the season and we could see the Terps stumble to the finish line as their rotations slow down. Should they finish below .500 this late in the year the cardboard cutouts at Xfinity Center will be calling for Turgeon’s resignation.
Best Case Scenario: 6 – 2, Get to the Conference Championship game while Maryland starts Wiggin out.
Aaron Wiggins has slowly but steadily found himself reaching his NBA potential. He has been become more active in the Terps offense and the entire team benefits from it. Eric Ayala, Donta Scott, Darryl Morsell and even Hakim Heart have taken turns this year trying to be the identity of the Terps offense this season, but none have been as promising as Aaron Wiggins.
With Wiggins leading the way, Maryland will have identified its leading scorer yet have several other starters and Jarius Hamilton as possibilities of leading the Terps depending on matchups or finding the hot handed shooter. Eric Ayala will take over himself or find the open shooters to create options for the Terps offense and that versatility will exploit the opposition.
Yes, Maryland has lack of depth around the post, but Maryland will counter the trend by placing Jarius Hamilton around the three-point line and taking away the strength of their Big 10 counterparts. Maryland will look to get the slow footed big men out on the perimeter where they will get served two helpings of Donta Scott and Eric Ayala.
The weak schedule will also provide Maryland an opportunity to gain some much-needed confidence and opportunities to rest the legs of their starters before the Big 10 Tournament. This propels Maryland to several ranked victories on their way to play Michigan in the Big 10 title game. Maryland become a single digit seeded bracket buster in office pools around the country.
My Prediction: 5-3, win a game in the Big 10 Tournament.
Maryland will need to win one of three against Ohio State, Minnesota, or Rutgers. Rutgers have slipped since the last time they faced each other, and they have already beaten Minnesota on the road this season. Ohio State will be a toss-up, but the Buckeyes should be a favorite at this point with good reason.
However, Maryland should go 4-1 against Nebraska (if they play), Michigan State, Northwestern, and two games against Penn State. I predict, Nebraska, Northwestern, and a disinterested Penn State team as the most likely candidates. Call me crazy, but even a down Michigan State team has me concerned as Tom Izzo squads seem to heat up this time of year.
Maryland can beat anyone in the conference with Michigan and Iowa being the teams we prefer not to see. Their level of intensity starts to rise on offense and Morsell leans into his role as a defensive stopper to provides Maryland enough of an edge to steal a victories and get themselves in the Tournament as a 10 seed.
What to watch for:
35%: When Maryland shoots above 35% from three, they win. When they do not, they lose. Maryland must deliver on the open looks through the course of the game.
Momentum towards the basket: Aaron Wiggins shoots significantly better when he has momentum towards the basket. Open jumpers, mid-range pull ups, and attacking the rim allows him to be the players we need to be in the final push to March. If he starts shooting fade-away jumpers, hesitating, or receiving passes that take him out of rhythm, his shot percentages drop drastically.
Containing Morsell: It is unquestionable that Morsell is the heart of soul of the Terps. He is their senior leader and a captain, but he must be under control for the Terps to win. There have been moments in the season where he tries to lead his team by himself and causes extra turnovers, missed baskets near the rim, or unnecessary fouls out of over emotional play. If he can stay in his designated role and keep himself under control, he will lead this team further than he could hope for.