Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (11-9) vs Miami Hurricanes (10-9)
The Location: Comcast Center, College Park, Md.
The Time: 9 PM ET
Thank goodness Notre Dame came to town. The Maryland Terrapins are losers of four of their last five games, and have significantly cooled off since starting conference play 2-0. A pair of losses against Pitt (though the most recent effort was much more encouraging), a disaster at NC State, and a blowout at Florida State have been painful to see. Worse still, they’ve thrown a wrench into this team’s tournament chances.
As I said earlier, though, the Pittsburgh game wasn’t necessarily the worst thing that could happen. For one, it was a huge improvement over the 20-point blowout earlier in January. And secondly, the Terps showed they can still score at home, at least. 83-79 against the #20 team in the nation isn’t too awful for a group that’s been struggling all year. Fortunately, they looked well poised to beat Miami.
The Jim Larranaga-led Hurricanes are probably one of the worst teams in the ACC this year at 10-9, at least according to their record. Their only wins are against North Carolina and Georgia Tech, and the exodus of seniors has hurt them big time. Still, an early season slate that featured three ranked opponents and Florida State suggests their record may not be all that bad.
In fact, the Hurricanes are probably right on par with the Terps in terms of ability. Larranaga is a fantastic coach who battled hard against Syracuse two times, and knows how to maximize potential. The reality is that his team is young, just like the Terps, but if anyone can coach them up, it’s the guy who brought George Mason to prominence.
Three Things You Should Know…
1.) Road games don’t really phase Miami
If you thought the Terps being at home was going to be a significant advantage, then you’re going to be disappointed. This team seems to play on the road just as well as they do at home, with five of their wins coming away from Miami. They may have had six, too, when they went to Syracuse and only lost to the #2 team in the nation by 5 points.
Miami knows how to grind out games, and when they’re able to dictate the pace, most teams struggle significantly with the results. Miami is going to try and slow this game down to a crawl and limit the number of possessions, and Maryland needs to get out in transition early if they expect to win this one.
2.) These two teams are almost equals, but Terps get the edge
Both squads have beaten Georgia Tech, lost to George Washington, and got taken to task by Florida State. If we’re basing this solely off similar opponents, these two are about even with one another. Still, I’d have to give the Terps the edge here.
Miami has played a tougher schedule, but they also have some pretty bad losses. The 61-60 loss against Virginia Tech in overtime was a stinker at home, but being blown out by Duke, Florida State, Syracuse, and Nebraska show this team has some major flaws. Of course, the Terps have their fair share of losses as well, but they’re at home. As I’ve said before, home teams win more often than not (unless you’re Miami).
3.) Rion Brown can score, but the real baller is Donnavan Kirk
Brown leads the Hurricanes in scoring with 13.4 points per game, but he isn’t a particularly good shooter as he only hits 42% of his shots. Brown is big, athletic, and certainly does his fair share of rebounding, but his three point shooting is streaky and when he isn’t on, the Hurricanes don’t have much else.
The Hurricanes are really dangerous when their second best player, fifth-year senior Donnavan Kirk, is playing at a high level. Kirk has been around the block: he started with Miami, then transferred to DePaul before going back to Miami. He’s a much improved rebounder, a big shot blocker, and a highly efficient scorer. Maryland has struggled with big men in the past, and Kirk is exactly the type of player who can slaughter the Terps in the paint.
Maryland wins if…
Jake Layman has another performance like he did against Pitt. Simple as that. Maryland’s second most talented player has been an awful shooter during conference play, but he appeared to light it up against Pitt and get back into a groove. The Terps need Layman to be good if they aren’t going to get a lot of post play. He can stretch the floor (and the zone Miami runs often) enough for Dez Wells to do what he does best — get to the rim.
Prediction: Terps win in one of the ugliest games you’ll watch them play all year. 60-55