The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (24-5, 12-4) at Rutgers Scarlet Knights (10-19, 2-14)
The Time: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
The Location: Louis Brown Athletic Center, Piscataway, NJ
The Backstory: Maryland had arguably their best week of the entire season last week. The Terps recorded victories over Big Ten powerhouse No. 5 Wisconsin and an underachieving Michigan team. However, it’s really the win against the Badgers that has the country talking.
Maryland cruised through non-conference play, picking up resume-building wins against teams like Iowa State and Oklahoma State. However, they came up short in their biggest test against Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Then Big Ten play rolled around and the Terps suffered through a tough five-game stretch from Jan. 22-Feb. 8 in which they lost three of their five contests. Maryland was embarrassed in double-digit losses to the likes of Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio State before finally hitting their stride on Feb. 11 in their second meeting against the Hoosiers.
Maryland has since put together a five-game winning streak, their longest in conference play. The backcourt duo of Melo Trimble and Dez Wells is playing their best basketball of the season as the pair is averaging 38.4 points-per-game between the two of them. Wells really has displayed his senior leadership, especially in Maryland’s win over Wisconsin. Wells exploded to the tune of 26 points and seven rebounds, including six of the team’s final 12 points. Trimble netted the other six points to close out the game.
The Terps also displayed their defensive acumen as forward Michal Cekovsky gave star forward Frank Kaminsky all he could handle as it took the Badgers leading scorer 14 shots to total 18 points. Kaminsky only registered six points and a single rebound in the opening half. Wisconsin also has the capability to burn opposing teams from beyond the arc, but they only shot 27.3 percent from deep last Tuesday. If Maryland can continue to play that type of defense, this is a team that could make a very deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
On the other hand, this is quite a different Rutgers team than the one that gave Maryland all they could handle in College Park on Jan. 14. The Scarlet Knights haven’t won since they upset a Kaminsky-less Wisconsin team on Jan. 11, which puts the losing streak at 12 games. Senior guard Myles Mack hasn’t exactly been playing his best basketball as of late. The New Jersey native is shooting 33.3 percent from the field (17-of-51) while shooting 36.4 percent from beyond the arc over the course of his last five games. If Mack isn’t scoring, Rutgers isn’t winning. The Scarlet Knights don’t score a ton of points anyway (only average 59 ppg), but when their star players aren’t producing, it looks even worse.
Keys/Storylines To Watch:
1.) Hold Mack at bay – As was mentioned above, Mack isn’t exactly shooting the lights out of the gym. However, if he gets going, Mack can give opposing teams fits on the perimeter. Maryland is going to have to carry over their momentum from last week in terms of defense, especially on the perimeter. The play of Trimble and Wells is going to be a big factor in whether or not Mack can get back on track against Maryland.
2.) Crash the boards – In the first meeting between these two teams, Maryland had a 46-33 rebounding edge. However, Rutgers does have some pretty athletic bigs in Kadeem Jack, Greg Lewis, and Junior Etou, who can do some damage from a rebounding perspective. Forward Jake Layman was one of the big reasons for the Terps having success on the boards. The Massachusetts native grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds in the first game. If Layman is able to help out the likes of center Damonte Dodd and forward Jon Graham, Maryland should be able to control this game.
3.) Continue the momentum – Maryland has won five games in a row and is playing arguably their best basketball late in the season. The Terps are getting consistent production from several different players, which is taken the pressure off Trimble to do all the scoring. Trimble now has the ability to facilitate and isn’t going to be expected to light it up offensively. If Maryland is able to win their two final regular season and keep this momentum going, the Terps will be in good shape.