The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (5-2) vs Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0)
The Time: 7:00 PM
The Location: Value City Arena, Columbus, OH
TV/Radio: ESPN, 980 AM
The Coaches: Mark Turgeon (47-30, third season at Maryland) and Thad Matta (250-72, seventh season at Ohio State)
The Backstory: The Terrapins are coming off their best week of the season. Maryland won the Paradise Jam tournament and did so in beating tough teams like Northern Iowa and Providence. Forwards Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz both shot well from the outside and proved that they can show up in big games. Layman is currently leading the team in scoring as he is averaging 16.4 points-per-game to go along with 5.9 rebounds-per-game. Layman has been sensational and is one of the go-to-guys on the offensive end for coach Mark Turgeon and company.
On the other hand, Ohio State comes into this game undefeated and ranked fifth in the country in the latest polls. While that is extremely impressive, the Buckeyes only true test has been Marquette, which turned out to be a terrible offensive game in which Marquette only scored 35 points. Ohio State is a very balanced team, but doesn’t have that superstar player that opposing teams have to watch out for. Leading the way is point guard Aaron Craft, who is averaging 11.3 points-per-game and 5.3 assists-per-game. Craft can really thread the needle and also has to be accounted for on the defensive end. He averages 2.5 steals-per-game and the Terps are a team without a true point guard, so that’s something to watch out for. 6’11 center Amir Williams clogs up the middle and is a glass-eater. Williams is averaging 8.3 rebounds a contest and could give Maryland problems inside.
According to KenPom, the Buckeyes have the toughest defense in the nation. They have the ability to stifle Maryland’s offense and this will easily be the toughest challenge for the Terps to date.
Keys to the game/Storylines:
1.) Attacking Ohio State’s tough defense: As was mentioned above, the Buckeyes apply tremendous defensive pressure. They allow the second fewest points-per-game in the NCAA with 53.3 (Clemson is the lowest as they allow 51.3). Ohio State ranks 13th in three-point field goal defense and that poses a problem for the Terps. Through seven games, Maryland is shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc. Layman and forward Evan Smotrycz both shoot at an over 45 percent clip and the Terps will need every ounce of their outside shooting ability to hang with Ohio State.
2.) Guard Battle: Even without point guard Seth Allen, Wednesday’s match-up between Maryland and Ohio State features a pair of sensational backcourts. The Buckeyes have a tremendous floor general in Craft to go along with junior Shannon Scott and senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. All three average at least 11.0 points-per-game and have the ability to score the basketball. The trio also has a wealth of veteran experience, something that the Terps don’t have quite as much of. Maryland guards Dez Wells, Nick Faust, and Layman certainly have the talent to run with the Buckeyes. Wells came to Maryland to play in big games and there will be games like this on a nightly basis when the Terps move to the B1G next season. This could be a stepping stone to something special if Maryland could come out on top in this leg of the ACC/B1G Challenge.
3.) Resume Building Win: While it was great to see Maryland take care of business in the Paradise Jam tournament, it still doesn’t change the fact that the Terps missed out on early resume-building wins like Connecticut and suffered a bad loss at the hands of Oregon State. Wednesday’s game presents an opportunity to get a huge win over a top five team. Aside from Duke when ACC play rolls around, Ohio State is the most high-profile opponent that Maryland will face all season. It’s not going to be easy for a team that doesn’t have a tremendous amount of interior presence, but this is a game that the Terps could win. They have to hold their own on the glass and must get a large amount of productions from their guards. If those things happen, Maryland may come out victorious in their final ACC/B1G Challenge contest as an ACC squad.
Prediction: As I said, it’s not going to be easy going into Columbus. However, this Maryland team is going to be a hungry one and one that knows the importance of this game. Maybe I’m nuts, but I think Maryland wins this one by a narrow margin. This isn’t last year’s Ohio State team that had a go-to scorer in Deshaun Thomas (19.8 points-per-game last season). The Terps get a humongous marquee win on the road, something along the lines of 75-72.