Quick turnarounds for the win. Maryland heads back to action on Sunday, visiting Georgia Tech at 7:45 (weird start time). Much like the Virginia game, this is a winnable road game against an average team that's close to a must-win. Besides the hit Maryland would take on their résumé with a loss to an apparent bottom-half ACC team, a loss here would do little to engender confidence in the Terrapins' ability to win big games down the stretch.
So while it's not quite a must-win the most literal sense, it is the second of a hugely important two-game stretch for the Terrapins, and their final game before a crucial showdown with Duke at the Comcast Center. A win here won't be a statement, but it would give the Terrapins a three-game winning streak and some much-needed confidence.
Their opponent, meanwhile, is searching for any measure of consistency. Paul Hewitt's run of mediocrity, going strong ever since the 2004 Final Four season, has continued on this year, with a combination of extremely disappointing and extremely encouraging performances, leading to the team's current 10-9 (3-3 in the ACC) record. A few of those bad losses are actually masking what appears to be an overlooked, underrated, dangerous team.
Early in the year, they dropped a game to Kennesaw State, Siena, and Charlotte, three opponents that they should've easily handled. They also lost to Virginia on the road, a game which Maryland handled with ease. They also played Syracuse close in the Carrier Dome, beat Richmond on a neutral court, and beat both North Carolina and Virginia Tech by double-digits in recent weeks. So, which team will show up on Sunday: the one that fell to Charlotte and Siena, or the one that beat UNC and Virginia Tech? That's a question I can't necessarily answer, but it'll probably decide the game. Fun times.
One potential culprit for the disparity in quality of play is where the game is played; they've lost two games in Alexander Memorial Coliseum, including the shocker to Charlotte, but they've come by a combined four points. On the road, meanwhile, they're 0-6. I don't know if it's just general inexperience, nerves, or a coincidence, but it appears that the Yellow Jackets are a very different team in the Thrillerdome than away from it. And in case you're wondering, no, they aren't making a return trip up to College Park this year.
One bit of good news: Hewitt is still running a four-out, one-in system, essentially putting four guards/wings on the court at the same time. The 4 for GT is 6-6; much like Virginia, Maryland won't be a height disadvantage in this one, and should actually have a slight advantage in the post.
Offensively, the Jackets aren't a particularly skilled team. There's a lot of length and raw athleticism, but they have the lowest eFG% in the conference, as well as the worst 3pt shooting %. Solid ball control salvages the offense a little, but the offensive efficiency rating is still the 10th worst in the conference, ahead of only Florida State, perhaps the best defensive team in the country, and Wake Forest, which is just flat-out terrible anyway.
Unsurprisingly, then, they rely quite a bit on their defense to win games. They're in the top 50 in the country in defensive efficiency and are especially adept at forcing turnovers. Despite a relatively quick pace (middle of the pack in the conference), the lower-scoring the game is, the better it is for GT: they're just 1-6 in games in which either team tops 80 points.
They're one of the better teams in the country against 2-pt FGs, but are terrible at defending 3s; they're dead last in the conference at defensive 3pt%. I imagine that's because they do a fair amount of doubling-down in the post, giving up open shots on the perimeter. Normally that wouldn't be too positive for Maryland, but they've seen quite a bit of improvement over the past two games, shooting 15-29 from 3. GT's perimeter defense should give them a chance to keep that up, and it may be a key.
Much of the offense will rely on Iman Shumpert, the 6-5 junior combo guard. After averaging 10 ppg in both of his first two seasons, he's taken a real leap this year, averaging 16 a game and cutting down his turnovers substantially. Part of that has to do with the fact that he's not playing quite as much point guard - he's sharing the duties with Moe Miller - but his play has taken a huge step forward from where it was. He's yet to turn in a real dud of a performance - the "10-point on 4-11 shooting with four turnovers" game in their loss to Siena was pretty bad, but even that had its redeeming qualities.
Perhaps just as importantly, he's been utterly dominant at times this season. He dropped 30 on UNC in that 20-point win, and he messed around and got a triple-double the last time the Yellow Jackets were on the floor, hosting Virginia Tech. It was the first Tech triple-double since 1989 and was what an Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer called "domination on a level [he'd] never seen." Not only was he fantastically offensively and on the glass in that game, he completely shut down Malcolm Delaney, allowing only eight points and forcing eight turnovers. In fact, he was just three steals short of a quadruple-double.
Of course, he's not going to have outings like that every day, but it's increasingly rare for him to turn in a dud. It seems the only answers to the question of "Which Shumpert will show up?" are now limited to "the good one" or "the great one." Whoever matches up with him - probably Sean Mosley, maybe Adrian Bowie on defense, perhaps Terrell Stoglin on the other side - will have a serious battle on their hands.
The good news is that the rest of the team isn't quite as filled out, especially offensively. Only two other players average double-digits for the Jackets, both sophomore wings. Glen Rice, Jr. puts up about 12 a game and probably the Jackets' most reliable outside shooter, shooting 35% from beyond the arc. He's struggled recently - only 9 points in his last two games combined - but before that, he was riding a streak of fire, averaging nearly 19 points in the previous six games.
Brian Oliver is averaging 11.5 ppg, and though he isn't quite the shooter that Rice is, he's pretty much the definition of "feast or famine." He dropped 32 on Syracuse and 28 against Virginia Tech, but has hit 17 just twice outside of that and has his fair share of 2- and 3-point outings. Making sure Oliver doesn't randomly go beast mode, as he's wont to do, might be a surprisingly large part of the game.
Maurice Miller, Jason Morris, and Mfon Udofia round out the regular contributors to the Jackets' backcourt. Miller, a 6-2 senior, started to get a lot of playing time at the point toward the end of last season. He's the fourth starter in the backcourt and takes a few of the point guard duties, but he averages fewer minutes than Udofia and ultimately takes a back seat to Shumpert at point, only averaging 5 ppg. Udofia, a 6-2 sophomore, is more of a starter. He's likely been a little disappointing - he was a top 40 player coming into GT, but he's only averaged 7 points this season - but he's offensively talented and will get starter minutes. Morris is a true role player and the most effective shooter on the team; he'll only get about 15 minutes a game, but he's usually good for a trey or two.
GT's post took a real hit with the (inevitable) departures of Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal. They have exactly one player of any real size on the team, and he's a freshman (not even a particularly highly-recruited one at that): Daniel Miller, who checks in at 6-11, actually came in last year, but was redshirted, making this his freshman year. He's been forced into averaging big-time minutes - around 25 mpg - though he's only averaging 5 and 5 a game. (Remember, even the 6-5 Shumpert is out-rebounding him). He provides solid size in the post defensively, but doesn't have a much bigger impact on the game than that.
They don't have much depth, if any at all, behind him. The next forward off the bench is Kammeon Holsey, another redshirt freshman, and he's only 6-8. Past that, the little-used 6-10 freshman Nate Hicks is the last line of post players on the team. Yes, serious foul trouble would be a potential undoing of this team.
Of course, Hewitt's 4-out, 1-in offensive style means that, as long as the big men are adequate, the guards can take over the offense. And I fully expect Iman Shumpert to do that; he's hit a point in the season where he's feeling it, and he'll be a huge challenge for Maryland, which traditionally struggles with that type of dynamic scorer (really, every team does). Containing him will be the top priority of the Terrapins defensively. Meanwhile, they'll need to keep up their hot shooting and hope that Jordan Williams can continue passing out of double-teams adequately when they come.
I feel like Georgia Tech's an overlooked team. Heck, I know I overlooked them prior to writing this post. The Yellow Jackets' losses are disappointing, but they look like a buzzsaw at home. Shumpert especially scares me; he has the potential to completely take games over. This will be a really interesting contest.