As the Terrapins head into their first ACC game against Virginia Tech, here are a few keys to the game that the team will need to accomplish in order to win.
1.) How will Alex Len play his second go-round in the ACC?
Last year when Alex Len made his ACC debut, I was giddy like a schoolgirl heading to prom when he gave N.C. State and C.J. Leslie some serious work, to the tune of 12 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks. I mean, sure C.J. Leslie dropped 20 on him and made me legitimately think about whether or not Len knew how to play defense, but at least one part of his game was great. Flash forward to now and I know those concerns about how aggressive Len will be offensive and defensively, night in and night out, are real.
This year, the Terrapins first game is against Virginia Tech — a team that has absolutely no bigs on the roster who have even a smidgen of the talent that Len has. So which Alex Len will show up? The one that stole Nerlens Noel’s lunch money for 23 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks in the first game of the season? Or the one that had 6 points and 2 rebounds against Delaware State and didn’t play aggressively at all (except when he was racking up bad fouls)?
Len has very solid games all the time, but when he’s truly transcendent and living up to the hype of being a top five NBA pick, that’s when the Terrapins are viewed as a team that can beat anyone. No one should be able to drive on the Terrapins considering his size and lateral movement. That is to say, when Len is on, he should be swatting balls all night long into the upper bowl — at Byrd Stadium. Will he do that against Tech?
2.) Who guards Erick Green?
Another legitimate question is who the heck guards Erick Green, the 6’4 shooting guard who is the human rickshaw that pulls along the rest of their team? Green is having a tremendous season offensively, and he’s scored 120 points in his past five games, so logic would suggest he’s going to hoist against the Terrapins. He handles the ball the majority of the time for Tech, so Pe’Shon might start on him, but if Green blows past P a bunch during the game, Turgeon might be forced to pick someone else.
Nick Faust might be able to get in his face quite a bit, but that leaves Faust-clone Robert Brown to be guarded by, presumably, Pe’Shon. Against P he might actually make some shots (he’s shooting 37% from the field this year), which could cause problems for Maryland if Tech is spacing the floor well.
That leaves us with Dez Wells, which is an interesting proposition. Wells may be the best candidate for the job athletically, but Green knows how to draw contact when he drives. A couple of fouls early from Wells and the Terps lose, arguably, their best player and paves the way for underrated-but-inconsistent Jarrell Eddie to hit threes over a smaller Nick Faust.
Chances are, Turgeon will throw a lot of players at Green, but I’m not sure which one will be the most effective.
3.) Will Maryland dominate the offensive boards?
Little acknowledged fact about Virginia Tech? They’re downright terrible at rebounding, and that includes giving up offensive rebounds far, far too often to enjoy. They’re second to last in rebounding in the ACC, which is alarming considering the pace they play at, and get beaten on the offensive glass almost every game. They give up, on average, over 12 offensive rebounds a game.
Their “big man” Cadarian Raines has scored a total of two points in three of their last five games, and their best front court player lately is walk-on Christian Beyer. C.J. Barksdale has been some butt this year as well, averaging only five points and four rebounds a game. With these guys manning the ship, the Terrapins should eviscerate the Hokies on the offensive and defensive boards.
Doing that, and winning the rebounding battle, would in fact give the Terrapins a huge edge and allow them to pull away with extended possessions and slowing down a Hokies team that loves to shoot a bunch.