Dec 27, 2014; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins guard Dez Wells (44) and guard Melo Trimble (2) celebrate in the second against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies at Xfinity Center. The Terrapins won 72-56. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Maryland is set to tip-off their first season in the Big Ten on Tuesday night in East Lansing against the Michigan State Spartans. The roles have been reversed entering the game with the unranked Spartans hosting the top fifteen ranked Terrapins. While the roles are reversed from the preseason expectation, Michigan State is still likely to be favored. Coach Tom Izzo has built one of the best programs in the country at Michigan State, even if they are having a down year they are still a threat to win on any night especially at home.
On Saturday against Oakland, coach Mark Turgeon finally got a chance to see his team play at 100 percent. Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz are still working their way back into the line-up, but for the first time all season, both players were available. This comes at the perfect time with Maryland getting set to tip off Big Ten play. Michigan State is dealing with injury problems as well. Senior forward Branden Dawson has missed the past two games with a fractured wrist. The initial injury report had him listed for a return against Maryland, but his minutes could be limited.
Turgeon will be looking to end the year on a high note with a road win to start league play.
Keys to the game
1) Dez Wells vs. Denzel Valentine
The two 6’5 shooting guards play important roles for their respective teams. Valentine has been doing a bit of everything for the Spartans this season (14.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, & 4.3 apg). He has almost doubled scoring output from last season while also improving his shooting percentage as well. Wells may not be 100 percent by Tuesday night, but he will need to play one of his best two-way games for Maryland to have a chance of winning. Valentine is one of the many extremely skilled shooting guards that Wells will go up against this season, and NBA scouts will be looking to see how he handles the challenge.
Wells had about as good of a return as anyone could have hoped for on Saturday. Maryland had been playing well in his absence, and Wells recognized this. In the first half, he played the role of distributor and finished the game with four assists. When he was called upon to close out the game, he did so in a variety of ways. Before the injury and against Oakland, we saw Wells attacking through the post more often. This has been a part of his game that he wanted to add and he looks comfortable playing on the block. It will be important to see if Wells feels comfortable using this part of his game against a similarly sized Valentine to draw fouls and set up open teammates. Wells will need to make sure his varying his point of attacking and using the many skills we have seen grow since he first arrived in College Park.
2) Attacking The Rim
Big Ten teams are known for their physical play and size down low. Points in the paint are tough to come by against most Big Ten teams. On the other hand, Michigan State is lacking size down low and it has shown so far this season. Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling are the two tallest players on the roster with both listed at 6’9. Despite being the two tallest players, both of them are playing under twenty minutes per game. Neither one offers much in rim protection either. According to Hoop-Math.com opponents are shooting 39.1 percent of their shots at the rim and converting on 51.8 percent of those attempts against Michigan State.
Having Wells back for this game is even more important when you look at how to attack Michigan State. Maryland has done a good job of attacking the rim so far this season and should continue to do so against the Spartans. Jake Layman, Melo Trimble, Richaud Pack, and Dion Wiley are attempting over 30 percent of their shots at the rim. When you add in Wells and Smotrycz then Maryland holds an important advantage at the rim. Also factor into the mix that most of those players are shooting above 75 percent from the free throw line, and then you have an even bigger advantage. Attacking the rim will help Maryland keep pressure on Michigan State and should also help to avoid long scoring droughts.
3) Transition Defense
Izzo teams are known for pushing the tempo and using their defense to create offense. This year’s team is no different as they rank 50th in scoring, 39th in rebounding, fifth in assists, and 19th in field goal percentage. Securing rebounds allows them to push the tempo and their unselfish play creates high percentage shots. Hoop-Math.com’s statistics back this up, as Michigan State is attempting 31.7 percent of their shots in transition. Even more impressive about their willingness to attack in transition is the number of three pointers they get while doing so. Michigan State is attempting 36 percent of their field goals from three and converting them at 43.8%.
Maryland played another team who looked to push for baskets in transition in Oklahoma State. The Terrapins limited those opportunities with good ball handling, which prevented live ball turnovers. Against Michigan State, Maryland will need to be careful with how many bodies they send to the offensive glass. While the Spartans are undersized they are a top rebounding team and securing those rebounds allows them to push in transition. Michigan State has turned their size into an advantage by attacking teams who are overcommitting to the offensive glass. Maryland is one of the tallest teams in the country but they will need to be careful not to have a false sense of confidence on the glass that could lead to them being vulnerable in transition.
Aside from the Texas Southern loss, Michigan State has lost to three teams who rank in the top twenty of KenPom’s adjusted offensive rankings. Where does Maryland fall in this category you ask? The Terrapins are the 19th best offense according to KenPom, which could mean a good night for coach Turgeon’s squad. Starting off Big Ten play with a win over one of the power programs would go a long way in showing the rest of the conference that Maryland is a threat this season.