Maryland Basketball: Michigan State poses significant challenge

Feb 28, 2017; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Maryland Terrapins forward L.G. Gill (10) dunks against Rutgers Scarlet Knights forward Deshawn Freeman (33) and forward Issa Thiam (35) during second half at Louis Brown Athletic Center. Maryland Terrapins defeated Rutgers Scarlet Knights 79-59. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 28, 2017; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Maryland Terrapins forward L.G. Gill (10) dunks against Rutgers Scarlet Knights forward Deshawn Freeman (33) and forward Issa Thiam (35) during second half at Louis Brown Athletic Center. Maryland Terrapins defeated Rutgers Scarlet Knights 79-59. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Maryland basketball team is looking to build off a much-needed win over Rutgers.

However, with Michigan State dropping their contest at Illinois on Wednesday, that could prove to be a very daunting task.

The Terrapins needed that Rutgers win in the worst way after dropping three straight games. Maryland actually played like a team and had seven players score at least eights points.

Despite only scoring 11 points, Melo Trimble had a complete performance against the Scarlet Knights. The junior guard dished out seven assists, which was the second most that he has had in a game all season.

Trimble also only committed one turnover.

The Terps also got a lift from Trimble’s backcourt mate Anthony Cowan. Cowan scored nine points, grabbed four rebounds, dished out three assists, and recorded three steals.

Cowan also scored the first five points for Maryland, who struggled to score the ball early on.

Finally, Maryland’s frontcourt has been searching for an identity since Michal Cekovsky was lost for the season in the Wisconsin game. Ivan Bender, Damonte Dodd, and LG Gill combined to score 29 points on a mind-boggling 13-of-15 shooting performance.

All three were extremely active around the basket, which is something that the Terps have craved.

Keys to the game

1.) Build on frontcourt momentum – As mentioned, the Maryland frontcourt really produced when they were needed the most. Shooting an 86.7 percent clip is incredibly impressive, especially when the play of the three has been sporadic throughout the bulk of the season. Michigan State is a team much like Maryland that relies on its guards quite a bit. After all, Nick Ward is the only forward that appears in the starting lineup. The Terps will need to try and test Ward early on. If he gets in foul trouble early, that could spell problems for the Spartans.

2.) Defend the perimeter – Both teams rank in the top six in the conference in terms of their three-point shooting. Michigan State shoots 38.1 percent while Maryland is hitting 36.4 percent of their long-range attempts. It’s really going to come down to length and who can defend the three-point line more effectively. The Spartans boast three players that shoot above 40 percent from three while Maryland has three that known down 37.4 percent or more of their shots. The length of players like Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson could be a huge factor.

3.) Take good shots – Maryland really shot the ball well against Rutgers, which including over 50 percent in each half. The Terps were smart and didn’t really try to force anything. It was great to see Huerter get his groove back from beyond the three-point line as he made two of his four attempts. If Maryland can get Jackson going from beyond the arc as well, this could be a very dangerous team in the Big Ten Tournament and beyond.

Players to watch

Miles Bridges (guard) – Bridges is a rare breed of guard. The star freshman stands 6’7 and can do just about anything on a basketball court. He averages 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest in addition to being a 40.8 percent shooter from beyond the arc. Bridges also uses his size to bully his way into the lane. Oh and he also blocks 1.6 shots-per-game. Maryland is going to have their hands full with this athletic freak.

Nick Ward (forward) – Ward has a similar build to that of Bridges, but occupies the frontcourt. He has a tremendous amount of strength and no problem posting up down low. Ward doesn’t have a ton of range, but shoots 59.7 percent around the basket. The Ohio native also can run the floor pretty well for a big man. Dodd and Bender will need to be on their toes in this one.

Alvin Ellis III (guard) – Ellis is one of three Spartans that shoot over 40 percent from beyond the arc. The senior guard can really knock down his fair share, which is evident in his 40.7 percent clip. Ellis really gave Michigan State a boost against Illinois with his 15-point performance. With the Terps keying on Bridges quite a bit, Ellis could get a few decent looks.

Prediction

Maryland badly needed to beat Rutgers on Tuesday to prevent an even bigger slide. Now the Terps are most likely a lock to make the NCAA Tournament field. As it stands now, a victory over Michigan State may boost their stock a little bit, but it isn’t going to hurt in a big way if they lose this one either.

Next: Michigan State could be motivated on Saturday

Mark Turgeon and Tom Izzo are certainly going to have their teams ready to go for this. The Spartans are going to be hungry for a win after losing to Illinois, but the Terps definitely will want to keep their positive momentum going into the Big Ten Tournament. A win for Maryland locks up the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. This one is going to be a dogfight, but Maryland survives on their home floor 67-62.