After an exciting victory over Arizona State 78-73 last night, the Maryland Terrapins have advanced to the CBE Hall of Fame Classic championship game. Guided by the hot hand of freshman Melo Trimble, who finished with 31 points, the Terps will get a whack at the Iowa State Cyclones, former NBAer Fred Hoiberg’s brainchild. The #13 ranked Cyclones gave Alabama the beat down last night 84-74, and are looking to continue that effort against Maryland.
So let’s break ’em down:
2013-14 Record: 28-8, Lost East Regional Semifinal (81-76) versus #7 Connecticut
Head Coach: Fred Hoiberg (5th year at Iowa State, 93-47, 3x NCAA tournament appearances)
Current Record: 4-0
The Iowa State Cyclones are an interesting case study on what a great coach can do for you. Between 2002 and 2010, the Cyclones made the NCAA tournament one time (2005) and went through three different coaches. Then Fred Hoiberg enters, and in just two short years transformed Iowa State back into the powerhouse it was in the 80’s and 90’s under Johnny Orr, Tim Floyd, and Larry “I party with students” Eustachy.
Hoiberg brought in recruiting acumen, NBA experience, and very sound coaching to guide Iowa State to 16 wins, 23 wins (2x) and finally 28 wins last year and a top 10 finish in the final AP poll. He’s put three guys into the NBA (Royce White, Diante Garrett, and Chris Babb) and could put even more in this year. This is all directly attributable to the arrival of Hoiberg and his UNC, push the pace offense.
Last season Iowa State had four guys scoring in double figures on the team, were first in field goal attempts, and happened to be a top five team in terms of shooting efficiency. The team was exciting to watch, an incredibly good three-point shooting team, and could play with anyone.
This year, they lost two key pieces in DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim, but return a lot of talented guys. Georges Niang is an NBA prospect; Dustin Hogue is a stud JUCO transfer and double-digit scorer; Bryce Jones is an exciting senior transfer who had stints at UNLV and USC prior to his arrival in Ames. The list goes on and on, quite frankly. Iowa State may be even more poised to make a Final Four run this year than last as the team now has boatloads of experience.
Players to watch out for:
1.) JR Georges Niang, F, 6’8″
2.) SR Dustin Hogue, G-F, 6’6″
3.) SO Monte Morris, G, 6’2″
We’ll focus in on Iowa State’s Big Three, but the reality is they’ve got at least a big four or five. In particular, Georges Niang, the Cyclones forward-center in a small forward’s body, is the real deal. Many felt that Niang would have peaked by now given the disparity in his size (he’s barely 6’8″) compared to people at his position, but he’s only gotten better this year. He’s averaging 22.7 PPG and 8.7 RPG, and Niang sports a fabulous inside-outside game that makes him a tough cover.
If you want a comparison, just go with a much more athletic Evan Smotrycz who can pass a bit better. Niang is averaging 4.3 assists per 40 minutes, which is phenomenal for a big man. He’s got an array of post moves that he uses both down low on cuts and in the high post to beat slower bigs off the dribble. The Terrapins would have been alright if Evan Smotrycz were covering him, but they don’t. You almost need a senior to guard Niang because of how crafty he is. Size is a disadvantage until you figure out how to use it to your advantage off the dribble.
Monte Morris and Dustin Hogue complement one another very well in the backcourt. Hogue is a shooter who can kill you from deep, and Morris is a truly gifted passer for being a sophomore. Everyone on the Cyclones passes well, but Morris is the ringleader of the offense even if he doesn’t score much. He’s been really outdone himself so far this year, however; Morris has 24 assists already and a 12:1 turnover ratio. He finds open shooters and uses screens very well, and stopping him early will be a task and a half for Maryland. Otherwise, he’s just going to find Hogue at the three point line. Or Niang. Or Naz Long. Or anyone on a team that has a ton of good shooters.
Maryland will win if…
1.) They can get Niang into foul trouble
Plain and simple, when Niang is on the court Maryland doesn’t really have a guy who can guard him without picking up a lot of fouls. Niang is creative with the ball and may abuse someone like Graham, Dodd, or Cekovsky on the block and live at the free throw line. Niang also fouls quite a bit (he’s averaging 3 per game this season), and on average nearly fouled out of every game last year. Hoiberg is going to let him play through it, and it’s up to Maryland to force him out early.
The Terrapins have guards like Dez Wells and Melo Trimble who can do that by initiating contact, but they’ve also got to get one of the big men involved in taking charges and trying to score easy buckets that Niang will have to foul to prevent. If the Terrapins remain a three point shooting team, they’re not going to get that opportunity. They may have to go to the post.
2.) The scoring is more balanced
I love to see a guy like Melo Trimble fill up the scoreboard and carry the team by himself as much as anyone else, but that’s not how you want to play in the future. Freshmen are typically due for letdowns following big games, especially guards reliant on making shots. Melo could just ignore the trend, of course, but why rely on that?
Dez Wells is notorious for his superior second half play by comparison to his slow starts in the first, but Maryland could use a guy like Jake Layman getting hot early to offset that. Layman looked great all game and has simply taken so many strides in becoming a more complete player, that I think we’ll see it from him this game. Did it even feel like Layman shot a three pointer all last game? I had to check the box to be certain. He’s scoring on runners in the lane now and using his length to his advantage rather than relying on jumpers. He can hit those, but by becoming a multifaceted player he’s got a chance to be truly special.
Maryland needs that Layman who has it all to show up if they want to supplant Iowa State.
Iowa State 71, Maryland 62
Later on in the season, I think Maryland could beat Iowa State once their young guys mature a bit. This year, I’m slightly less sure right now because Hoiberg is such a good coach and the Terps are so young. This game will be close though, especially if one of the Terps freshmen puts on a display as they did last game.