Maryland/UConn: What to know/Prediction
The long wait is over. Its been two years since we have seen Maryland play tournament game and the NCAA tournament committee forced the Terp’s faithful to sweat it out until the final seconds before their name was called. The wait was harmonious for their season. It was a grind that made you question if they had done enough but just like sixteen other times this season, when the final buzzer sounded, the boys have done it.
Their season long desire to compete for the National Championship has come to fruition and their final journey is slated to begin this Saturday night against the University of Connecticut. While, UConn has plenty of name recognition, it has been a few years since the teams last played. Who are they? What should we expect? Can Maryland pull the upset?
Who are they?
Dan Hurley (Head Coach): The Former Seton Hall point guard and brother of Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley started getting national attention after winning stops at both Wagner and more notably Rhode Island before landing the head coaching job at Connecticut in 2018. During his tenure, the Huskies have gone 50 – 36 and finished as high as 3rd in the Big East this season.
Both Hurley and typical Mark Turgeon coached team (this year being different) focus on similar philosophies, putting an emphasis on team defense, forcing bad shots away from the basket and collecting rebounds in order to control the pace of the game. On offense, UConn uses a lot of movement at the tope of the arc with pick and roll sets for their big men. For the past two seasons Hurley allows the point guard to be the focal point on offense with good reason.
James Bouknight, PG (Player to watch): Bouknight is currently projected as a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft and averaged nineteen points per game as the leading scorer for the Huskies. The 6’5 sophomore will be the key factor for the Huskies hopes on offense. While not overwhelming in any particular category, Bouknight’s size and athleticism allows the game to come to him in order to find open looks by either going around or over his opponents. There is little opposing defenses have found to stop him this season and Mark Turgeon has expressed that “Bouknight is the best offensive player for them,” adding “Looks like an NBA player to me.”
What should we expect?
Morsell versus Bouknight: “That will be his primary matchup,” Turgeon said. “We like to switch screens, we’re going to do what we do. But, if Bouknight is getting really hot and doing some things, we might lock Darryl into him. Right now, yeah. But between now and Saturday at 7, which is a long time from now, we might change the game plan. But Darryl will lock in on him.”
The Baltimore native Darryl Morsell has consistently been called upon to lock up the premier scoring threats that the Big Ten has offered. This resulted in Morsell receiving the Big 10 defensive player of the year award over some of the leagues top players. Expect the chess match between coaches to start with this matchup and react accordingly.
I don’t anticipate either team to overthink this process. Both teams will show different rotations in hopes to gaining mismatches, but don’t be surprised if UConn strays from the Bouknight strategy first in order to put pressure on Donta Scott with his matchup against forwards Isiah Whaley and Tyler Polley. While Scott has played out of position and already faced plenty of future NBA bigs this season, I would expect Hurley to want to put pressure on Scott to hopefully get him in foul trouble early.
Expectations and Final Prediction: It seems like the majority of the country expects Uconn to run away with this game, receiving 65% of the vote according to an ESPN poll. National pundits seem more confident in what they have seen out of UConn lately, but this will be a closely contest from start to finish.
The game will start off with UConn attempting to get the ball inside early putting pressure on both Donta Scott and Galin Smith. Hurley will have a few designed opening looks that they have saved for this moment. On the other end, Turgeon will ask Scott to pull his defender out on the perimeter to take advantage of his own mismatch on the outside hoping to draw some contact.
Both teams will be prepared and feel comfortable playing within the back and forth pace that has anxiously awaited players for two years. Neither team will stray from their game plans, but Turgeon will call upon Jairus Hamilton from his bench towards the end of the first half to provide more space for Ayala and Wiggins. Maryland guards will attack the basket hoping to get to the foul line and find additional scoring chances to separate from the Huskies. Connecticut averages almost five more fouls per game than Maryland and with the Terp’s smaller lineups Ayala will attempt to keep the game close from the free throw line and will lead the Terps in first have scoring.
Maryland’s shooting has seen more ups and downs than Oprah’s weight and why would this game be any different? Maryland will undoubtedly struggle about midway through the first half causing a five to ten minute scoring drought. Maryland will rely heavily on its defense but UConn will get some easy looks near the basket on second chance points as they average over eleven offensive rebounds per game and their size advantage will plague Maryland to give UConn an eight point advantage.
Morsell will visibly show frustrations resulting in several missed shot attempts around the rim. This will result in foul trouble on the senior and Bouknight will thrive with Morsell on the bench. Mark Turgeon will call a timeout and the smaller lineup will force Maryland’s guards to focus on boxing out the forwards and allow for their athleticism to keep them in the ballgame through transition points and some open looks from beyond the arc.
As the game wears on, I expect Morsell to show maturity accepting and allowing the offense to go through Wiggins, Scott, and Ayala while he focuses his energy on shutting down Bouknight. The Big 10 defensive player of the year will do just that an inspired Maryland team will find itself within five points with under five minutes to go.
The game will be everything March Madness anticipates, but the foul trouble on UConn will give Ayala and Wiggins chances to take the lead with under two minutes. After a timeout by Hurley, Turgeon will remind his team who they are and what they have already gone through. The young team will look to its senior leader and they will lock down the Huskies and sink free throws to ice the game with eleven seconds remaining. Morsell will run down the clock and Maryland will advance.
Maryland 69 – 62