Maryland versus Rutgers Preview and Prediction
Who to watch for on Rutgers?
The Scarlet Knights have been making teams see red every game so far this season. They enter their matchup against Maryland undefeated (4-0) and are led by NBA prospect Ron Haper Jr along with teammates Montez Mathis and Jacob Young. While Harper has averaged 22.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, including a thirty-point effort versus Fairleigh Dickenson and a twenty-six-point game versus Syracuse earlier this season, the misconception is that he is doing this on his own. When in fact, the Scarlet Knights are rounded out by Mathis and Young whom are both averaging sixteen points or more per game and Young has twenty-seven assists on the season.
Both teams entered the Big 10 in 2014 and Maryland has gone 9 – 1 in those matchup’s over Rutgers. With the game set to be played Monday 6:00 at Xfinity Center, there are three nights until the game’s matchup, so let us look at the three Knights that Maryland fans should know.
Knight one, Ron Harper Junior –
As mentioned above, Ron Harper Junior is leading Rutgers in points and rebounds so far this season. However, Darryl Morsell, Andrew Wiggins, and Eric Ayala have found ways to use their size to contain the 6’6 245lbs guard. In previous games versus Maryland, Harper has only scored double digit points (10) once, in his freshman season in a blowout loss to Maryland. The Terps had the luxury of forcing Harper to shoot away from the rim in those games with Jalen Smith still protecting the paint for Maryland. With Smith gone, Harper might try to challenge Maryland’s forwards by using his athleticism to get to the rack.
Knight two, Montez Mathis –
Montez Mathis on the other hand, the Baltimore native, has found success in his three previous games against Maryland. In every game he has played, he has had ten points or more, including fifteen in their last game this past March. Mathis consistently finds a way to help his team win, but one area where he struggled was from beyond the arc against Maryland. In his career, he made his only three-point attempt in his first game against Maryland two seasons ago, but did not make a single basket from distance his sophomore season against them. While he is not a prolific three-point shooter statistically, he can put up points from the perimeter.
Knight three, Jacob Young –
Expect to see Jacob Young on the floor a lot. He currently leads the team with 136:38 minutes played and has been on the floor over eighty five percent of the time for the Scarlet Knights this season. Young also averages just under seven assists per contest and steals the ball three times per game. Maryland has been prone to turn the ball over, especially in the first half of games. Do not be surprised to see Young frustrate the Terps backcourt throughout the contest.
Is Baker Stirring?
In last season’s loss to Rutgers, Maryland watched Geo Baker step back and serve the Terrapins eleven points and four assists. While his numbers were not particularly good shooting, (4 –11), the tape shows Baker cooking the Maryland defenders. His possessions led to open looks from all over the court and frustrated Maryland throughout the contest.
Baker is currently allowing a high ankle sprain to heal and according to head coach Steve Pikiell, he is going to attempt to practice this week. Pikiell’s decision to play Baker will be determined by how he does in practice. If he plays, he could stir up trouble for the Maryland defense.
Can Maryland come out of its shell?
Maryland has had one bad half this year and it was painstakingly bad. The Terps were outscored 38 – 15 by Clemson and played their most uncharacteristic half of the season. While it was mostly garbage time in the second half of the game, Maryland showed fight by outscoring Clemson 36 – 29 and proved to themselves that they could compete against better competition.
They cannot expect to compete against Rutgers if they get off to a similar slow start. Mark Turgeon will likely have several efficient plays ready to start the game to avoid slow starts. Galin Smith and Donta Scott found some chemistry in the second half versus Clemson, and I would not be surprised to see Smith get the ball inside to start this game.
Part of Maryland’s problem on the offensive end, was the lack of team offense being played. Wiggins was bringing the ball up the court uncharacteristically more often, Ayala seemed slower than normal, and the ball seemed to stop rotating when Morsell put the ball on the floor. After the game, Mark Turgeon said “We were just standing around and watching a guy dribble.”
Maryland’s offense has had the luxury of Anthony Cowan and Melo Trimble running Turgeon’s offense for the past several seasons. To start this years campaign, Eric Ayala looked to continue that trend, but struggled to get the offense going last game. There will be a prominent level of expectations for him to return to form headed into this game against Rutgers.
This game is yet another reminder game that neither Jalen Smith nor Anthony Cowan are on the team. Smith and Cowan were the reason Maryland competed against Rutgers last year. They used a lot of pick and roll with Jalen Smith creating mismatches both inside the paint and from beyond the arc. When the Terps needed a basket late in the shot clock, Cowan would take over. With both of those players gone, we are still asking who would be that “go to guy.”?
As mentioned earlier, Donta Scott and Galin Smith worked well together last game. Smith used his hook shot around the rim with great efficiency, while Scott never stopped moving with or without the basketball. However, so far this season, it has been Eric Ayala and Donta Scott pacing the offense. We speculated that Morsell and Wiggins would be a larger part of the equation, but with five games into the season, I expect Mark Turgeon to use Morsell and Wiggins as three and D role players and allow Eric Ayala and Scott to open the lanes and distribute to the open shooters. This is not a bad thing.
Morsell did an incredible job last year locating the opposing team’s top scorer and harassing them every moment he was on the floor, and Maryland was a better team for it. Wiggins is not the same shooter he was his freshman season, but he is a better athlete. He has found comfort with his mid-range jumper and when he gets momentum towards the basket, he shows athleticism that force NBA scouts to take note. As a team, they need to find comfort in their roles in a hurry if they expect to find success in the Big 10.
After re-watching the game against Clemson, the Terps seemed to fall victim of circumstances. Some of which was their own missteps, but there were a multitude of missed opportunities. These include opportunities from the free throw line, deflections, long rebounds, and overall momentum that never really bounced in their favor.
They know they did not play well in the first half. I do not believe that they should be discredited for one bad half of basketball. This team has too much experience and are talented enough to win games. They can still be a good shooting team with ample size on the perimeter which cause athletic mismatches wherever the play. They will also be returning home where they should find comfort after losing their first road game of the season.
The problem is they are playing a Rutgers team who already have identity. Rutgers does not have a deep bench nor are they a great free throw shooting team, but that does not matter. They have assigned Harper, Mathis, and Young as its teams offensive focus.
The remaining roster plays specified roles purposely designed to help their team succeed. There will be no question that Harper will get the ball if the team is down late and he knows to look to Mathis and Young should he find himself getting double teamed. The fact is, while both teams have similar years of experience, this Rutgers team has years of experience playing together in this lineup with no questions headed into Monday’s matchup at Xfinity.
Maryland will play better but will struggle to defend Mathis and Young. 78 – 70 Rutgers.