Jan 7, 2015; Champaign, IL, USA; Maryland Terrapins guard Jake Layman (10) goes up for a shot defended by Illinois Fighting Illini center Nnanna Egwu (32) at State Farm Center. Illinois beat Maryland 64 to 57. Mandatory Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports
Wednesday night marked Maryland’s first Big Ten loss and snapped a seven game winning streak. This year’s Terrapins have already exceeded the preseason expectations and have put themselves in a good spot to not only make the NCAA Tournament but to have a high seed as well. The loss to Illinois was disappointing, and should serve as a warning to the team that they cannot take anyone lightly in conference especially on the road. Saturday is another game against a team looking to make the NCAA Tournament this season that needs a big win.
Purdue lost on Wednesday as well, but they put up a good fight against the preseason pick to win the Big Ten, Wisconsin. They entered the half down one on the road at Wisconsin, and held tough for most of the second half before losing by seven. The Boilermakers are a tougher team than people give them credit for. Coach Matt Painter has always had teams who play tough defense, and this year he has two highly skilled seven footers to anchor the defense. A.J. Hammons was the known commodity at Purdue entering the season, but freshman Isaac Haas has come on to provide Purdue with another legitimate post presence.
Haas was a four start prospect, but was under recruited as he picked Purdue over the likes of Wake Forest, UAB, and Texas A&M. Another four-star freshman, Vincent Edwards, has come on right away to help lead Purdue. Coach Painter pulled the four star wing out of Ohio over Vanderbilt, and some interest from Michigan and Xavier. Both Haas and Edwards are averaging over ten points per game and over four rebounds per game each. This is a part of a heavily balanced Purdue attack, which has four players averaging ten points per game. The balanced attack has led Purdue to be ranked in the top fifty of KenPom’s offensive rating.
For Maryland to bounce back and secure their second road Big Ten win they will need to focus on these three keys:
1) Dez Wells and Jake Layman
Maryland will not be able to survive many games, if any, where both Dez Wells and Jake Layman play poorly. Layman got into early foul trouble against Illinois and finished with ten points on an efficient 4-of-6 shooting. Unfortunately, Layman was too passive for much of the night, choosing to defer to teammates and not being active on offense. The early foul trouble clearly through Layman off, but the next step in his maturation is learning how to bounce back from early foul trouble. The team didn’t play great without Layman, but they held a two-point lead at halftime. It was a good situation to have a fresh Layman coming back into the game with the lead in hand, and it didn’t play out the way we expected.
Wells is still recovering from his wrist injury. Turnovers have always been a problem with Wells, but since coming back his handle hasn’t been as good and there has been hesitation in attacking. This is to be expected given his injury, but Wells is a leader and needs to find other ways to impact the game. Similarly to Layman on Wednesday night, the two spent stretches out of the offense without touching the ball. Wells has done a good job since coming back of impacting the game with his rebounding and playmaking, but on Wednesday this didn’t exist.
Both players are veteran leaders and will need to bounce back on Saturday to lead Maryland to a win over Purdue. Bad games in college are bound to happen especially as the two are still transitioning into new roles and off of injury. Unfortunately, on Wednesday both players had a bad game and that is a recipe for a loss.
2) Post Defense
Purdue is still working on how to play both Hammons and Haas together, and as the season progresses they will need to. For now the move off bringing them on in place of each other has helped Purdue to constantly attack through the post. The more veteran Hammons has established the ability to play in the midrange, which has helped his NBA draft stock. Haas is still a young player who does pretty much all of his damage in the post. Maryland has played good post defense against a couple of really good big men in the NCAA, but Saturday is a much different task.
Coach Mark Turgeon has opted to let his big men play one-on-one in the post against good players. It is a risky decision and against Minnesota it almost backfired. The trio of Damonte Dodd, Jon Graham, and Michal Chekovsky is going to need battle for forty minutes and stay out of foul trouble for Maryland to have a chance at slowing down the post attack. The strong three point shooting of Jon Octeus and Kendall Stephens will make it difficult for Maryland to be able to double the post. Dodd, Graham, and Cekovsky don’t need to completely stop Haas and Hammons, but they need to able to make it difficult for them.
3) Pace And Space
For those of you who watch The Grantland Basketball Hour, then you will remember this from the December 18 episode when they discussed the Dallas Mavericks. Turgeon spoke about installing a motion offense similar to what the San Antonio Spurs do. Pace and space is found in both Dallas and San Antonio’s offenses and elements of it have been similar in Maryland’s offense.
On Wednesday, these elements were missing. The game was played at a stand still and for multiple possessions in a row there was little movement on offense. Without movement on offense, it is difficult for the guards to find space to attack and set up shooters. Melo Trimble was able to find space here and there, but Maryland is at their best when multiple players are attacking and moving the ball.
Playing with pace allows Maryland to find mismatches on offense and create bigger driving lanes. According to KenPom, Illinois play at the sixty-fourth fastest tempo in the country, but against Maryland it was a grind it out game. Purdue is the one hundredth fastest pace team, which could mean another grind it out game for Maryland. The Terrapins will need to find ways to push the tempo and to play with pace and space instead of playing against set defense for forty minutes.
Saturday has become an important game for Maryland. Beating Purdue won’t excite the masses and bring widespread media attention, but dropping back-to-back road games would hurt the perception of Maryland. Wednesday night, Maryland played with little effort and resembled last year’s team. They will need to shake that off and show the conference that Maryland can bounce back from a loss and win on the road. Maryland is still in position to head into the rematch against Michigan State in one of the top three positions in the conference, which would make for a great game.