Maryland (24-12, 8-10 ACC) – The Basics: The Terps will be shorthanded in Tuscaloosa tonight as backup PG Seth Allen suffered a stress fracture in his shooting hand during practice and will most likely be out for the rest of the NIT (barring MD advances any further). This will be a huge blow to MD’s backcourt, as Allen was the Terps third leading scorer (10.8 PPG) during the NIT, and has scored in double figures in four of the past five games. MD will need big games from Pe’Shon Howard and Nick Faust (12.8 PPG over his last five games) as the two will most likely handle PG duties against an Alabama defense that has held its two NIT opponents to 48.5 PPG and just under 34% shooting from the field.
But the Crimson Tide will have their hands full as they try and slow down the red hot Dez Wells, who is averaging 15.5 PPG and shooting 60% from the floor in NIT action. Wells is averaging 19.4 PPG over his last five games, and he will need to continue his steady play if the Terps want to advance to the NIT Semifinals in NYC.
Similar to their game against Denver, MD will face an Alabama team that is guard oriented, which could possibly be an issue for the Terps bigs. Alex Len and crew struggled mightily against the Pioneers’ smaller lineup, and Alabama does like to run with 4 guards at a time. However, the Tide have 3 guys who are 6’8” or taller who log serious minutes, so MD might be able to have a more traditional rotation with their big men. If so, Alex Len will need to be an offensive and defensive threat as opposed to a liability. Len, who has struggled staying out of foul trouble, has only averaged 6.5 PPG in NIT action while shooting 36% from the field. He’ll need to find a way to keep himself on the floor, and cause Alabama’s guards to be tentative while driving to the middle.
Alabama (23-12, 12-6 SEC) – The Basics: After holding Stanford to a season low 54 points in Saturday’s 66-54 win, coach Anthony Grant must be using the old football proverb “defense wins championships” and applying it to his team. Alabama has held 23 of their 35 opponents this season to less than 60 points and has held their last five opponents to a combined 36.6% shooting from the floor (three of their last four to only 32%). Despite their obvious size disadvantage, the Tide finished second in the SEC in defense, fourth in FG% defense, and second in 3-point FG% defense. Their aggressive play causes trouble for the opposing team’s forwards and centers which ultimately lead to turnovers (third in SEC in steals, fourth in TO margin) and quick transition points.
Maryland will have to play a little defense of their own as well. Alabama’s guard-heavy offense gives the Tide the benefit of keeping defenses guessing, as any of their 4-5 guards has the potential for a big game. As proven by Retin Obasohan’s career game against Stanford in which he scored 14 points after only averaging 4 PPG this season. Sophomore guard Levi Randolph came into the NIT averaging under 8 PPG for the season, yet has averaged just under 15 PPG in his last two outings. Regular season leading scorer Trevor Releford (15.1 PPG) has struggled shooting his last couple games, but the First Team All-SEC guard is more than capable of breaking out of his slump at any time. Trevor Lacey (11.5 PPG) and Rodney Cooper (10.1 PPG) are also capable of getting hot and being the Tide’s go-to scorer.
Key Matchup: Maryland’s Dez Wells vs. Alabama’s Levi Randolph
Keep an Eye On: turnovers. MD is already undermanned at PG, which means Faust will have to slide out of position and give Howard a breather with some minutes as the Terps point man. On top of that, MD was last in the ACC in turnover margin (-4.22) and Alabama was third in SEC in takeaways. This could be a massive problem for the Terps, as they hope to avoid turnovers leading to easy transition baskets for Alabama.