The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (25-12) vs Iowa Hawkeyes (24-12)
The Time: 9 PM EST
The Location: Madison Square Garden. NY, NY
TV/Radio: ESPN2/ESPN3, 105.7 FM
The Maryland Terrapins are taking it back to the start: New York City. After that thrilling 58-57 victory against Alabama in the NIT quarterfinal game, the Terps head back to the same city (albeit different borough) which started their season to take on Iowa. This time, they are hoping for a different outcome than the loss to Kentucky in their first game.
There is no other way to put it than to say the Maryland Terrapins are just on a roll. Winners of five of their last six games, the Terrapins are definitely playing with a chip on their shoulders. They are a team scorned, and you can see clearly that there was a fire lit under them after the pressure to make the tournament was lifted from their shoulders. Against Alabama, it was Alex Len who guided the Terrapins to victory with his five blocks, one of which came in the final seconds to ensure Alabama didn’t get a chance to win.
That’s not to discount Dez Wells and Jake Layman’s efforts in that outing; the two had 13 apiece and guided the Terps while Len was on the bench in foul trouble. And so it has been all tournament, with some player stepping up to the mantle while others go cold and leading the team. The Terrapins are finally playing like a team, and it only took 37 games to do so. In their first NIT semifinal appearance since 2005, will they come up big and make it to their first NIT championship since 1972? Not if Iowa has anything to do with it.
The Hawkeyes are a similarly young team, wrought with inexperience but playing to the best of their abilities. Iowa summarily dominated Virginia in their last outing, a 75-64 win that wasn’t even that close. They creamed a NCAA tournament bubble team and one that was largely expected to win, without batting an eye. Guiding them through this is their cool but fiery coach Fran McCaffery and his go-to guy, Roy Devyn Marble. The 6’6 guard has been the star of the tournament this year, averaging about 25 points, 5 assists, and 3 steals over his last three games. He has reached 20 points in every outing, and is hitting 50% of his shots from the floor. Marble’s play has elevated to the point that NBA scouts are actually taking a good look at him now, and the Terrapins would be wise to do the same.
Iowa is a dangerous team right now that is surging in the tournament as if they own it. They have beaten every team they played in the NIT by ten or more points, and are now the highest scoring team in the tournament. They dispatched Stony Brook, a team that gave the Terps trouble earlier this year, with ease, and look every bit as dangerous as the Terrapins going into this game thanks to their fast pace and rebounding ability.
Keys to the game/Storylines:
1.) A future Big Ten match?
The Terrapins are going to get their first dose of Big Ten basketball since their win against Northwestern earlier in the year. Against Iowa, this is going to be a preview of things to come in the future, as they are a rising Big Ten team certain to challenge the Terps in basketball. The Hawkeyes are young, and are largely considered a tough out. They will want to secure their spot as one of the top B1G teams in the future, so you can bet that they will be ready to thump the Terps and put them in their place as the “new guys.”
Maryland should be prepared for a rough match against the Hawkeyes, because their coach is no dummy. A win here is a symbolic victory as well as a chance to be crowned the best team to not make the tournament, which should be more than enough motivation for both squads. McCaffery is going to pound that fact home to his team, and hope that it translates on the court. Turgeon, for certain, will be doing the same and it’s going to make this match all the more important.
2.) Slow down Roy Devyn Marble
For Maryland to win, they are going to have to limit Marble’s impact on the game. Despite shooting 40% on the season, his play during the NIT has been completely different. He isn’t making mistakes on the court, and it’s what has been making Iowa so scarily good. Marble has been stealing the rock like crazy, and turns it over about one time a game despite being their ballhandler and facilitator. So how does Maryland slow him down?
Throw Dez Wells on him. Dez is going to be the best defender Marble has faced all tournament, and their athleticism matches up incredibly well with one another. Even with Wells expending energy stopping Marble from getting to the paint, the Terrapins have to bring some help defense around when he does slip by. They also need watch for the kickouts by Marble and defend the perimeter. A lot to ask, but that’s how well he’s playing. A team effort is required tonight.
Prediction: The Terrapins take it in a very, very close game.