The Teams: No. 4 Maryland Terrapins (28-6, 14-4) vs. No. 13 West Virginia Mountaineers (24-9, 11-7)
The Time: Saturday, 8:40 p.m.
The Location: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Oh.
The Backstory: Valparaiso seemed to be the popular upset pick by many to knock off the Maryland men’s basketball team on Friday. However, the Terps gutted out one of the more closely-contested games of their entire season. Behind freshman Jared Nickens and his four made shots from beyond the arc, Maryland topped a scrappy Valpo squad 65-62 in the team’s first NCAA Tournament game in five years.
It’s been pointed that Maryland has been one of the most impressive teams when it comes to winning closes games. Despite not being able to run away with the game, the Terps never trailed during the final 24:31 of Friday’s contest. The game was tied or a one-point margin on several occasions, but Maryland never wavered. Even in the final seconds, coach Mark Turgeon went to his bench and an unlikely hero emerged. 5’6 guard Varun Ram stripped Crusaders guard Keith Carter to seal the game for the Terps.
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West Virginia certainly had a similar go-round in their Second Round match-up against Buffalo. Coach Bobby Hurley’s bunch gave the Mountaineers all they could handle in their 68-62 win over the Bulls. Much like the regular season, guard Juwan Staten (15 points & 7 assists) and forward Devin Williams (17 points & 9 rebounds) paced the Mountaineers and scored 32 of West Virginia’s points. However, Buffalo did manage to out-shoot West Virginia percentage-wise, but just couldn’t make a few plays down the stretch to pull off the upset.
In terms of the Mountaineers performance during the regular season, they did win 11 games in the Big 12, including victories against the likes of Kansas and Oklahoma. However, the Mountaineers dropped both meetings with Baylor and Iowa State. It was a season of inconsistencies for West Virginia, but their high-powered offense gives them a chance every time they take the court. The Mountaineers averaging 73.9 points-per-game, which is good for 36th in the country. They also rank in the top 60 in rebounds-per-game (36.8) and assists (14.5), proving that are a very efficient team when they’re on top of their game.
Keys/Storylines To Watch:
1.) Guard play – As was mentioned above, Staten is a phenomenal talent at the guard position. He is one of the quicker guards around off the dribble and has a flair for the dramatic finish at the rim. The Dayton native ranked fifth in the Big 12 in scoring with 14.5 ppg, which is pretty impressive in a conference that is dominated by high-profile scorers like Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Oklahoma State’s Le’Bryan Nash. Staten could draw guard Dez Wells when Maryland is on defense. Melo Trimble and Wells are going to have to be more aggressive in this game than they were against Valpo. Trimble only hit three of his eight shots in Maryland’s Second Round game. However, it was nice to see the freshman grabbed 10 rebounds on the defensive end. Trimble can affect the game in so many ways, so the more aggressive he is, the better.
2.) Get Dodd involved – Center Damonte Dodd had a solid showing on Friday as he scored eight points on three-of-three shooting. However, despite only registering one foul in the first half, Dodd picked up two fouls in a 23-second span only 3:29 into the second stanza. Dodd was only able to grab two rebounds in the game, partially due to the fact that he couldn’t be aggressive on the glass due to foul trouble. If Dodd is able to play smart and be aggressive early on, it’ll be a huge factor for the Terps. In facing a guard that likes to penetrate into the lane like Staten, having a rim-protector like Dodd that isn’t in foul trouble is a must.
3.) Jake Layman – While it’s been largely about Trimble and Wells all season, forward Jake Layman has been a huge x-factor for Maryland. On Friday, the Massachusetts native only scored 4 points on one field goal attempt. Layman also fouled out late in the game, which could’ve been a huge factor if they went to overtime with Valpo. Layman’s only field goal attempt was a badly-timed three-point shot late in the game. The shot was saved by a skying rebound and putback from Wells that turned into a three-point play coincidentally. Layman is going to have to be more involved on the offensive end if Maryland wants to advance to the Sweet 16 on Sunday. The junior has made tremendous strides this season and it would be a shame to see his season end on a sour note.