Maryland travels to Clemson to take on Tigers, Preview and Predictions
Maryland’s men’s basketball team will travel to Clemson Wednesday to find its first road test against Power Five opponent 5:00 p.m. at Littlejohn Coliseum. Both teams enter the game undefeated and the game will be a part of the annual Big 10/ACC Challenge. Maryland leads their former ACC counterparts 85-46 all time in the series and will hope to add to its lead after the contest. Here are a few key points before Wednesday’s matchup.
The Return of the Tiger King
No, Joe Exotic is not out yet, but Senior Aamir Simms has been an animal this season for Clemson. After rescinding his name from the NBA draft and returning for his final year, Simms has played less than twenty minutes per game, but still leads the team in both scoring and assists. Last year, Simms averaged thirteen points and seven rebounds per game while shooting an impressive forty percent from the perimeter. His versatility and size will be a mismatch for most college teams, and a combination of Wiggins and Galin Smith will likely draw the early assignment of containing the beast.
Guard the Perimeter
Maryland faced its first true test of the season when they were down midway through the second half of their matchup with Mount St. Mary’s. In that game, forward Galin Smith got into foul trouble and the Terps defense seemed to get pushed around the rim against the mid major. If Smith gets into foul trouble and Simms can prowl near the basket, the Terps may not be able to put together the 21-0 run that they mounted against Mount St. Mary’s.
Maryland knows this, and I expect them to use zone to force the ball to the outside pressuring Nick Honor (33% 3P% ) and Al-Amir Dawes (10% 3P%) to shoot over the zone and require the Terps to go into a man-to-man defense where Simms can feast. However, the Terps have a significant size advantage (Eric Ayala 6’5, Darryl Morsell 6’5, and Andrew Wiggins 6’6) at the guard position and if their defensive rotations are slow, they still might be able to recover the distance due to their length. If they can’t rotate and allow Nick Honor to penetrate the zone, Maryland will struggle to keep pace.
Shelling out the points
Eric Ayala is shooting 42% from beyond the arc. That is an impressive leap from last year’s 27% and would be tops on most teams in the NCAA. However, that is currently only good enough for fifth best on this year’s team. Hakim Hart, Jairus Hamilton, and Darryl Morsell are all shooting 50% and Donta Scott is currently leading the team with 55% shooting from range.
While Ayala is leading the team in scoring with fifteen points per contest, the Terps have six players averaging nine points per game or more. Hakim Hart, pumping in thirty-three points against St. Peters, will skew some of the data, but I imagine after his career performance, Brad Brownell and his staff are keeping a close watch when he enters the game.
While the fans are anxious to see how Maryland holds up to a step up in competition, the Terps roster is more experienced than most. While most of the roster are underclassman, Maryland’s team have years of experience from top to bottom. Freshman Aquan Smart has seen double digit minutes this season, but I expect Maryland to use the top end of the roster in this one.
Maryland will want to out-pace the Tigers and will likely use their press defense to pick up the tempo and transition into zone early to limit fouls. Playing away from Xfinity Center in front of limited fans will be a new experience but should not hinder Maryland’s experienced roster.
Eric Ayala will be the key and I expect to see him to take this game over in key possessions. He has a significant size advantage over the 5’10 Nick Honor and should be able to get to the rim or shoot over his defender. In the limited moments of “must need” baskets, Ayala has been the catalyst on offense.
Clemson has already won against Purdue (81-70) this season and should be more comfortable playing at home allowing them to take the early lead behind Honor and Simms efforts. As the game goes on, Maryland’s depth should wear down Clemson. Maryland will likely turn the ball over early and could find some frustrations defending Simms, but the size advantage of the guards should be the determining factor late in the game and allow Maryland to crawl away with a victory.
Final Score 78-74 Maryland.