The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (13-3) vs NC State Wolfpack (14-2)
The Time: 7 pm ET
The Location: Comcast Center. College Park, Md.
TV/Radio: ESPN2, WatchESPN, 105.7 FM
The Backstory: The Maryland Terrapins may have started the season by winning 13 of 14 games, but heading into their much anticipated matchup against NC State, they are the losers of two straight conference games. A rare home loss to Florida State and a hideous game at Miami has turned what was once a confident team into one that is searching for answers. Turnovers and an inability to hit shots have been damning trends over the last two games, and against NC State things likely aren’t going to get much easier for Alex Len and Co.
Meanwhile, NC State is fresh off an upset victory over their big brother Duke, who was #1 in the polls at the time, and is riding a ten game win streak. C.J. Leslie, one of the best forwards in the country, had 25 points and six rebounds in that game, and Richard Howell had 16 points and 18 rebounds against Mason Plumlee and the Dukies. Their front court has been performing incredibly well as of late, and look unstoppable at this point.
Keys to the game
1.) Make C.J. Leslie try and do too much
Because C.J. Leslie can basically play the three front court positions on the floor, he is going to be a very difficult match for any of Maryland’s bigs. Even if Dez Wells were to guard him, the size advantage would prove to be too great against him. Instead, Maryland is going to have to try and funnel him into the paint, where Alex Len or one of the other big men can contest every shot he takes. Help defense is the only real way to shut him down, and even that may not be enough (only two teams have held him under 45% shooting from the field this year).
Fortunately for Maryland, Leslie is turnover prone because while he’s a good ball handler, he tends to think he’s better than he actually is and turns it over. He also has a passable jump shot, but allowing him to take those may behoove the Terrapins, because I’m guessing Leslie won’t make nearly as many as he thinks he can make in his head. Playing to his weaknesses, not his strengths, is big here.
2.) Get to the free throw line
NC State is thinner than fine linen in the front court, and getting Richard Howell or C.J. Leslie into foul trouble early could completely change the outcome of this game. Oklahoma State definitely gave teams a formula to beat NC State when they dismantled them earlier in the season 76-56. During that game, C.J. Leslie fouled out with 17 minutes to play and Richard Howell also fouled out, because everyone on Oklahoma State was attacking the paint and drawing contact. They converted 20-of-24 free throws that night, and ended up blowing out the Wolfpack.
If Maryland wants to be effective, they have to employ the exact same strategy. Nick Faust, Dez Wells, and Alex Len need to initiate contact straight away and try to get some fouls drawn their way. None of the Wolfpack guards are particularly incredible defenders, either, so blowing by them isn’t out of the question. The importance also lies in actually making the free throws they take. Against Miami, Maryland got to the line 18 times, but only made eight of those. For a team that has some solid free throw shooters, the Terrapins still need to relax and make the ones they get.
3.) Single digit turnovers
Maryland might actually have a chance to really (and I mean really) dominate NC State if they just don’t turn the ball over as much. The Terrapins are a treat to watch when they’re not careless with the ball and trying to rush passes, and they’re capable of playing with any team considering the ball movement they possess. Unfortunately, the passes they make are, for lack of a better term, half-assed. Entry passes get intercepted, cross court lobs are slow, and behind the back 2-on-1 fastbreak dishes are dumb. All of the aforementioned turnovers occurred during the Miami game.
Playing smart, safe, basketball always ends up being a good thing, and Maryland has to get back to that. When everyone on the team is just doing their job and not trying to get too fancy, the Terrapins can play with anyone. Keeping that turnover number at 10 or fewer will give the Terps an opportunity to take down an NC State team that turns it over quite a bit as well.