The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (18-8, 6-7 ACC) V. Clemson Tigers (13-12, 5-8 ACC)
The Time: 12:00 PM EST
The Location: Comcast Center. College Park, Maryland
TV, Radio: ESPN2, ESPN3, 105.7 FM
The Backstory: The Maryland Terrapins head home from Chestnut Hill, Mass. with their tail tucked into their shell after losing a crucial road game 69-58 to the Boston College Eagles. The Terrapins, hoping to follow up their supreme win over the Duke Blue Devils the previous game, came out flat against the Eagles and simply couldn’t get any semblance of an offensive flow going the whole night. Alex Len had his lowest point total of the season after facing multiple double-teams, finishing with only four points on the night. Logan Aronhalt was the only player on the team to hit the double-figure mark, hitting seven three’s en route to his career high at Maryland of 26 points.
Other than that, the Terrapins looked awful, and as a result have a serious chance of missing out on their tournament bid. They are in the precarious situation of having to win at least four of their next five games (and that’s not including the tournament), in order to remain players in the Big Dance acceptance ceremony. These final five games start with a Clemson Tigers team that should not be taken lightly in spite of their record.
The Tigers are not nearly as bad as their resume suggests they are. Losers of four of their last five, Clemson is a team very similar to Boston College in that, while they aren’t winning games, they aren’t losing by a whole lot either. Four of their last five losses have been decided by seven points or less, and that rough stretch included games against Miami, Virginia, North Carolina State, and Boston College. So while they may not have have the chops that some of Maryland’s other opponents have, they are still not a team that is going to be put away very easily.
Senior forward-center Devin Booker leads the charge for the Tigers, averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds a game this year. Booker is a pretty good on-ball defender, and while he isn’t particularly large, does manage to hold his own against the best players because of his experience on the floor. He is backed up by sophomore forward K.J. McDaniels, who is averaging 11 points and 5 rebounds on the season and has a propensity to be a bit streaky. McDaniels takes a lot of shots, but unfortunately for Clemson, not many of them go in. His tendency to play outside of what his skill level permits is something that the Terrapins are going to have to exploit.
Keys to the Game:
1.) The redemption of Len
Alex Len was given the business by the fan base after his poor performance at Boston College. Part of that was due to double teams, part of that was also due to his lack of assertiveness on the floor. Either way, he goes up against a senior center who is going to defend him just as heavily as any opponent will in Booker. Last year, Len was limited to 11 minutes due to foul trouble caused by Booker, and he finished the game with only two points and three rebounds.
That was basically his line during the previous game, and it’s up to Len to recover with a big performance in order to get some mo’ heading into the final stretch of the season. If he dominates the boards and gets a few easy buckets early on, Len could get back on track and help the Terrapins avoid becoming an afterthought come March. If not, this season will fall apart before his eyes and his draft stock may do the same.
2.) Rebounds, rebounds, rebounds
Speaking of rebounding, the Terrapins were beaten on the boards yet again for only the second time this season against Boston College. What makes the Terrapins special is their ability to hit the boards hard against anyone, and it helps mask their turnover issues by extending possessions. When they fail to do that, their streaky shooting and butterfingers comes back to kick them in the rear end.
Clemson is undersized and, while tough down low, should have a major issue with stopping some of the Terrapins rebounders like Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare (and, of course, Len). If Maryland can control the boards this game, they will have a much easier time coming away with a win and avoiding an upset on their home floor.