Mar 1, 2014; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys fans storm the court after the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Oklahoma State beat Kansas 72-65. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
On Sunday Maryland travels to Stillwater, OK to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys in their first true road game. Both teams have one loss and could use a win to boost their NCAA Tournament résumé. Maryland’s win against Arizona State continues to fade as the Sun Devils have dropped to 6-4, while Oklahoma State needs a win over a ranked team to help the committee move past the loss to South Carolina they suffered.
Oklahoma State is a veteran team, which is led by four seniors. With a much-needed week off, Maryland should be able to expect more minutes from senior Evan Smotrycz. Having Smotrycz back will help the young Terrapins in their first true road game. Smotrycz and the other forwards will have their hands full with Oklahoma State’s forward combination of Le’Bryan Nash and Michael Cobbins. While on the perimeter, Maryland’s guards will need to keep Phil Forte off the three-point line and contain Anthony Hickey Jr.’s ability to drive. The Cowboys backcourt is undersized, but both players present a different set of challenges to the young Maryland guards.
Here are the keys to Maryland passing its final non-conference test and entering the conference season ranked in the top twenty.
1) Ball Handling and Limiting Turnovers
Maryland has been streaky in this regard throughout the season. We have seen stretches of multiple turnovers, but we have seen Maryland go long stretches without a turnover. Oklahoma State is a tough team defensively who gets after the ball. Currently, Oklahoma State is forcing 10 steals per game, which is good for eleventh in the country. The Cowboys highest percentage of offensive attempts comes in transition according to hoop-math.com. Transition basketball accounts for 36.3% of Oklahoma State’s offensive attempts, and in transition they are attempting 41.8% of the shots from three. Not only is Oklahoma State aggressive in their pursuit of the ball, but also they are aggressive in seeking to gain three points off of those opportunities.
In the last three games, Maryland is averaging twelve turnovers per game. Given how the previous two years have been, twelve isn’t a bad number. The important thing for Maryland on Sunday will be to not only limit the turnovers, but also to limit the live-ball turnovers. Maryland is a much-improved defensive team this year, and if they are playing most of the time in their half court defense instead of transition defense that will give them an edge.
2) Controlling The Inside-Outside Game Of Nash and Forte
Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte are the two leading scorers for the Cowboys this year at 17.7 and 17.1 points per game respectively. Forte is adjusting a new role this season, which has hurt his efficiency. Last season he played with more a point guard in Marcus Smart than he is this year with Anthony Hickey Jr. Forte is taking three more shots per game and one more three pointer per game compared to last year, and with the increase in shots he is only making one more field goal per game. Regardless of his efficiency being down, he has still improved his ability to lead a team in scoring and is a major threat from deep.
Le’Bryan Nash has also seen his efficiency decrease this season while improving his scoring. He still lacks the ability to be a threat from deep, although he is attempting to add it to his arsenal. Nash is still making five field goals per game, but he is taking more shots this season. His biggest improvement has been in his ability to get to the free throw line. Nash is shooting almost twice as many free throws this year than he did last year, and he is making them at a higher percentage.
As mentioned, Maryland’s defense is improved over last year’s team. They also might be able to slow down the Nash and Forte combo without having to tweak too much. Teams are shooting 57% at the rim against Maryland, which is a low number considering that these are shots at point blank range. What is more impressive is that only 29.4% of opponents’ shots are coming at the rim. Nash plays in the mid-range area, and if Maryland keeps him there then they can force more missed shots and prevent him for getting to the line. As for Forte’s three point shooting, many would be surprised to see that teams are only hitting 28.9% of there threes against Maryland. However, the majority of opponent shots come from three. Maryland can live with Forte shooting a lot of threes as long as they are contesting those attempts.
3) Take Advantage Of Transition Opportunities
Maryland hasn’t taken full advantage of transition play, which is mainly a by-product of not forcing many live ball turnovers. Unlike Oklahoma State who plays a big risk-big reward style of trying to create turnovers, Maryland opts to play sound half court defense. Oklahoma State’s opponents have used the transition game to counter the aggressive man defense. The second highest number of attempts against Oklahoma State is in transition (24.5%) and in those attempts teams are shooting at eFG rate of 44.2%.
It won’t be in Maryland’s best interest to get into a track meet with Oklahoma State, but when the opportunities arise Maryland needs to take advantage. These opportunities can not only lead to higher percent shots, but it can help Maryland to put Oklahoma State in foul trouble. While the Cowboys play eleven players double figure minutes, the drop off in scoring between Nash and Forte to the rest of the team is significant. Nash and Forte have scored 330 points this season, while the other nine players with double-digit minutes per game have scored 381 points.
Don’t be fooled by the Cowboys over reliance on Nash and Forte, they are 9-1 on the season and have won games in a variety of ways. They are a veteran team, who understands their style of play and have experience running it. The aggressive defense looking to force steals isn’t new for this season. The previous two years Oklahoma State averaged eight steals per game. Maryland has played a top defensive team in Virginia, but Oklahoma State will pose a different style of defensive pressure. The young Terrapins will need to be mentally ready to face constant pressure for all forty minutes on the road.