That time has finally come! Maryland basketball officially tips off the regular season on Friday against Connecticut. Similar to the Kentucky game last year, this one pits the Terrapins against the 18th-ranked team in the nation. It’s very important because it will give coach Mark Turgeon and the fans a good indication of just how Maryland will do against premiere backcourts. According to CBSSports, Connecticut is the fourth-best backcourt in the country and is a real threat to do some damage.
Last Tuesday, Maryland suffered a big blow to their backcourt when sophomore point guard Seth Allen fractured his left foot. Given a timetable of eight to 10 weeks, Allen will miss some key games, including Oregon State and the ACC/B1G showdown against Ohio State. Immediately after Allen went down, Dez Wells proclaimed that he was the guy that could run the point. With Wells leading the offense, this still gives freshman Roddy Peters some time to adjust to the collegiate game.
Guards Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, and Omar Calhoun will give Maryland a run for their money and possess a ton of athleticism. These three guards combined for 62.3 percent of last year’s scoring for the Huskies, so it’s obvious that defense will be the key in this game. Enter guard Nick Faust, who Turgeon has stated is the team’s best defender. Wells assuming the point guard position will allow Faust to start at shooting guard and will likely guard Napier. Faust is listed at 6’6” while Napier is listed at 6’0”, so it’s clear that Faust will have the height advantage over Napier. This will allow Faust to contest every shot that Napier puts up. Napier is known for his deadly jumper, so Faust will not be able to stop everything, but the matchup will certainly force Napier out of his comfort zone. Faust must be quick on his feet to force Connecticut to pass to other options. While this will not always be possible, taking Napier out of the game is Maryland’s biggest key defensively.
Boatright and Calhoun have earned their reputation as three-point threats. As they shot a combined 32.6 percent from three last year, that number could improve. Both players impressed last season, proving that they belong among the elite guards in the nation. Although Boatright is versatile, Calhoun is definitely not. Of Calhoun’s shot attempts last season, 54.4 percent were three-pointers, showing he’s the most one-dimensional of the three guards.
Although he was not as good a defender as Turgeon and his staff would’ve liked, Layman on Calhoun will be a great matchup. Layman’s size and long arms will force Calhoun to shoot with constant pressure. Calhoun has the ability to catch fire quickly, but I believe that Layman will be up to the task. Turgeon said in the offseason that Layman has improved his defense. If Layman stays focused and driven, then this matchup should be even on both ends of the floor. However, Layman seemed to get lazy at times and give up points based on defensive lapses. If Layman can cut back on these mistakes, then Calhoun can be contained.
As for Boatright, he is just as much of a threat as Napier is. Boatright plays hard and is very versatile. Because he is a high-energy player, Dez Wells guarding him makes the most sense. After watching Wells play last year, there is no other player on the team that plays harder and emotionally as he does, reminding me of former Terp guard Greivis Vasquez at times. Wells is a good defender that has the speed to stay with Boatright and force him out of position. Just like Napier, you can’t shut Boatright down, but you can certainly contain him. The only concern I have for Wells is foul trouble, as he had some games last year as well as the exhibition game that forced him to miss large chunks of action. But if Wells can avoid the silly fouls, then he will give Turgeon a viable option to defend Boatright.
Maryland certainly has the talent to compete with Connecticut. Preseason rankings do not matter until March and both teams are aware of this. Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie will have his team mentally and physically prepared for the game. I expect a close game and many momentum shifts throughout. This game will set the tone for the Terps run for a NCAA tournament bid.
Looking to go to the game? Make sure to grab your Maryland vs. Uconn tickets as soon as possible for the opening game of the 2013-14 season!