Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Following a trip to the US Virgin Islands, the Maryland men’s basketball team finds themselves ready to start an important two week stretch. After scheduling a weak non-conference slate last year, coach Turgeon upped the ante for his bunch this season. Connecticut and Ohio State on the road, Oregon State in front of the POTUS (not an RPI boost but a big cred bump), Northern Iowa and Providence at the Paradise Jam; not an easy slate.
However, this Wednesday will start a tough three game stretch that will help fans and coaches gauge where the team is in comparison to the rest of the country. Further, it’ll provide for yet another opportunity to boost their schedule.
Last season, Maryland struggled when playing away from the friendly confines of the Comcast Center. In conference, Maryland dropped games to Boston College, Georgia Tech, and Florida State on the road; three teams who finished the ACC season with a sub .500 record. Swing two of those games in favor of Maryland, and the young Terrapins may have heard their name called on Selection Sunday. As it stands, Maryland blew those games and a couple other road games (North Carolina, Duke, to name two) and finished the season with only four true road wins.
On Wednesday, Maryland will travel to Columbus, OH to take on the #7 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Ohio State will provide the biggest challenge so far to Maryland, but also their best opportunity to date to make a national impression. Ohio State is 6-0 right now, most notably beating Marquette on the road earlier in November. The Buckeyes are a veteran team, led by one of the nation’s best defensive players in Aaron Craft. Juniors Shannon Scott, LaQuinton Ross, and Amir Williams also make up a well balanced team that is looking to win the Big Ten Championship this season.
Maryland won’t just be competing against a well-balanced and well-coached team in Ohio State, they will also be competing against one of the toughest home court advantages. Last season, the Buckeyes only dropped two games at home, an 81-68 loss to #1 Indiana and 74-66 loss to #9 Kansas. At home, Ohio State was able to knock off two top five teams in Michigan State and Michigan last year; one played in the national championship game this year, the other is #1 this year with the same team.
Maryland will need to be ready to play on Wednesday both physically and emotionally if they want to knock off Ohio State on the road. Sure, they can look at this as a great opportunity to play in a hostile environment, but Maryland needs to be ready to win. Obviously, there are no moral victories in sports, but if Maryland is able to go blow for blow with the Buckeyes for 40 minutes on the road, it would help cure some early concerns that fans have.
Regardless of the outcome on Wednesday, Maryland will need to have a short memory as they get ready for Sunday’s game against George Washington. In the annual BB&T Classic at the Verizon Center in Washington DC, Maryland will square off against a local team who just gained a lot of confidence out west. What looked like a cupcake game that had been relocated to an NBA arena, this now looks to be a great game between an upstart mid-major, and a high major looking to reclaim their position in the beltway. George Washington is no push over as evident by their recent three game stretch at the Wooden Legacy. Out at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA, George Washington knocked off last year’s ACC Champion (Miami), lost to Marquette, and then beat #20 Creighton.
George Washington is lead by two high major transfers in Maurice Creek (Indiana) and Isaiah Armwood (Villanova). Both of whom were top 100 recruits from the DMV area, who returned home after poor stints outside the area and injuries. On Sunday night, they frustrated a Big East favorite, Creighton, and held a Naismith candidate in Doug McDermott to only seven points. They varied looks throughout the game, mixing zone and man looks that slowed down Creighton and kept the game at a pace that suited George Washington. Point guard play has been an issue for Maryland, especially with the injury to Seth Allen. The Maryland guards will not only be tested at Ohio State, but also against sophomore guard Kethan Savage from George Washington. The 6’3″ guard is averaging 12.1 ppg 4.4 rpg and 2.3 apg, while shooting at 59% FG and 43% 3FG. The Terrapins cannot take George Washington lightly on Sunday, as they will come to the Verizon Center ready to play and make a statement locally.
Finally, Maryland will conclude their three game road trip with an early season ACC game. The Boston College Eagles made headlines last season nationally when freshman guard Olivier Hanlan went for 40 points in a first round ACC Tournament game. For those watching the ACC, Boston College was a well known thorn in many teams side. At home last season they knocked off Maryland and Virginia after they beat top ranked Duke, and the Eagles almost upset Duke if not for some questionable whistles at the end. Boston College has an odd arena, which is better suited for hockey then basketball, but last season they were a tough team at home.
With the key players from last seasons team returning, Boston College was a trendy pick around the country for an ACC team poised to breakout. So far they haven’t looked ready for the primetime, as they dropped their first three games to Providence, UMass, and Toledo. Since then Boston College has needed overtime to beat Sacred Heart, lost a heart breaker to UConn by 2, won by 3 vs Florida Atlantic, and beat Washington.
This may not be the start of the season that Eagles’ fans were hopping for back in September, but coach Steve Donahue knows that he can begin to right the ship with a win against Maryland to start conference play. Road wins are tough to gain in conference, and many have pegged the Terps and Eagles as two teams in the same tier of the conference. This is the only meeting between the two teams, which could make this game an important one come conference tournament seeding. Olivier Hanlan was the point of emphasis with the Eagles in the preseason, and he has been living up to the hype this season, as he is averaging 21.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, and 3.3 apg while shooting 47% FG and 37% 3FG. Even more impressive is that Hanlan is averaging nine free throw attempts per game and shooting 84% from the free throw line.
For Maryland to be successful over this next three game stretch they will need to get past their road woes, stop three different guards, and outwit three intelligent coaches. There is still plenty of season left after this three game stretch, but without Seth Allen, if Maryland can weather the storm and go on 2-1 it would be a big confidence boast heading into an easier home stretch of games. Craft, Savage, and Hanlan are three tough guards for Maryland to play especially because they are all different then one other. Craft makes his living on the defensive end as a ball stopper who holds up teams from getting into their sets. Savage is more of a game manager, but can make teams pay if they begin to ease off of him. Hanlan is the focal point of his team, and an attacking guard who can take a game over with his offensive ability.
If we are to believe that this year’s Maryland team is better then last years team, the next three games will begin to show us that. Each game provides Maryland with a different opportunity to make a statement about the season they want to have. In a perfect world, Maryland pulls off the upset at Ohio State and wins the next two to sweep the three game trip. As great as that would be, it’s more realistic to believe that Maryland pulls off 2 wins and opens up ACC play with a key road win. However, if Maryland drops two of these games, they will be looking at a difficult remaining three months of having to navigate the NCAA bubble.