Maryland didn't get the result they wanted to begin the ACC schedule, but as I've been saying a win would've been a pretty surprising outcome. That's not true for their second ACC matchup, a thankfully easier home date with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
Wake, as you probably know, was expected to have another rough year and likely occupy the ACC cellar, or at least thereabouts. (Boston College, obviously, was the unanimous last-place selection.) The early-season results didn't give any cause for disagreement: the Deacs' most impressive non-con victory might've been a two-point road win over Nebraska, while they dropped games to Dayton, Richmond, Seton Hall, and, shockingly, a really bad Arizona State team by 28 points. Then, in their final pre-ACC tune-up, they lost to Wofford, managing on 50 points in the process. Yes, it was without their best player, but still: Wofford. Lose-to-Wisconsin-by-36, can't-beat-UMKC, ten-points-worse-than-Western Carolina Wofford. It was basically confirmation that this Wake Forest squad would struggle to make any noise in the conference.
Of course, then everything gets turned upside down: with their roster intact for their ACC opener, they toppled a decent Virginia Tech team in Winston-Salem. Suddenly, everyone will be taking another look at the damage Wake can still do.
But VT upset notwithstanding, if there are any games Maryland should be winning in the conference, it's against still-rebuilding squads, like Wake, who have less depth than the Terrapins and a similar (or perhaps slightly inferior) talent level. And that's doubly true at home.
If Maryland has any ambitions for this season, even if only for the NIT, this is a crucially important game. It's obviously not a must-win in the truest sense of the word, but in the same way that the Terrapins' trip to Raleigh was huge for the Wolfpack, so is the Deacs' trip to College Park for the Terps.
The scary thing is that I'm guessing a lot of people were looking at this as about as close as you can get to a guarantee game in the ACC, save for the BC home game. That's clearly not the case - Wake Forest actually has a fair amount of talent, especially on the wings, and flexed their muscle with the Virginia Tech win over the weekend. Maryland is rightfully favored, but it's far from a gimme.
The area Wake Forest scares me the most is with their wing play, where junior C.J. Harris and sophomore Travis McKie - who is really playing a lot of 4 for Jeff Bzdelik but is a 3 at heart - form a potent duo. Both are averaging about 35(!) minutes per game and are putting up big points consistently: Harris averages 18.2 ppg, and McKie isn't far behind with 17.5. They're easily the highest-scoring duo in the ACC, and in fact are #2 and #3 in the conference behind only, yes, Terrell Stoglin.
But it isn't just that they put up points. McKie in particular is so well-rounded: he shoots well from just about everywhere on the floor, leads the team in rebounding at 6.5 a game, and is supposedly a top-notch defender to boot. With his size (6-8), skillset, and athleticism, he'll be a difficult handle for whoever Maryland wants to put on him.
Harris, meanwhile, is a deadly efficient scorer. He shoots 50% from three but has only 49 attempts (Stoglin has twice that), so he's careful about picking his spots - not a bad thing, of course. He's third in the conference and 33rd in the country in true shooting percentage and is similarly high in eFG%. He gets to the line more or less at will, second in the conference to only Stoglin (but remember that he takes significantly fewer shots). McKie and Harris are truly two of the hidden gems of the ACC, and in tandem they're pretty formidable. Maryland's defense will probably need to step up from what it was against N.C. State, because the two would have a field day otherwise.
The good news for Maryland is that the quality on Wake's roster more or less ends there. Sure, there's promising seven-foot sophomore Carson Desrosiers, who will give Alex Len his best test yet, and sophomore point guard Tony Chennault has a lot of potential. But neither have really impressed so far in their young career: Desrosiers is averaging only 5 rebounds per game (his offensive rebounding percentage, for example, is worse than Sean Mosley, Berend Weijs, and Mychal Parker), while Chennault's assist to turnover ratio is above 1.0 but a little worse than Pe'Shon Howard's - and I think we all agree that Pe' isn't really lighting the world on fire right now.
Rounding out the starting lineup is 6-8 senior Nikita Mescheriakov, everybody's favorite Belarusian punching bag. Mescheriakov has seen a jump in both playing time and quality this year, but 7 points and 4 rebounds (and a 28% three-point percentage) isn't really going to scare anyone.
The Deacs go only two-deep past that. There's 6-3 freshman combo guard Chase Fischer, who's been forced into big minutes (he played 37 against Wofford in relief of Harris) and has acquitted himself well. He seems a little one-dimensional, but he's a serious catch-and-shoot threat, having taken 65 threes and shooting nearly 40% on them. There's also 7-foot senior big man Ty Walker, who was suspended for the first semester or so. Walker is basically the epitome of unfulfilled expectations; a former five-star recruit, he's never been anything more than a bit piece in Winston-Salem. He's like a worse Mike Jones. That said, Wake Forest is probably the only team in the ACC who can sub in one seven-footer for another, and thus the only one without any height deficiency against Alex Len. That counts for something.
Maryland, in comparison to Wake's light lineup, can go nine-deep, which obviously should favor the Terrapins. Strangely, though, they're not a guarantee to try to slow it down; they've played seven games with 70 or more possessions (Maryland's had only four), and are actually 64th in KenPom's adjusted tempo rating. They've gotten much slower in recent games (or other teams have slowed them down?), as they hardly cracked sixty possessions against Wofford and Virginia Tech, and in fact didn't crack 60 against Seton Hall. So it looks like against more talented or deeper teams, Bz wants to slow it down - I doubt Turgeon will oblige him, and that should play in Maryland's hands some, particularly as the game winds down.
(Sidenote: I feel like this may be a bellwether game for Mychal Parker. He's probably the best pure matchup on Maryland's roster with McKie, and his athleticism and willingness to run should be perfect in a game like this. He's already more athletic than anyone on Wake's roster - imagine what it'd look like when they're tired and he's not. If Turgeon truly does trust him as much as the fanbase is starting to, I wonder how much he'll get unleashed, particularly at the end of halves.)
As a team, Wake isn't particularly bad offensively, but they're not particularly good, either. They're in the top 150 in eFG%, top 100 in turnover %, and they can get to the free throw line as well as anyone in the country. There's a bit of over-reliance on McKie and Harris, but not so much that it kills the offense. They take very few three-pointers, but that's about being smart: they shoot about 37% as a team from deep, which is one of the better marks in the conference. They won't shoot the lights out because they don't take threes unless they're good shots, but give the right guy a look and more likely than not it'll be three points.
The problem with their offense is two-fold: they over-rely on getting to the free throw line, and they don't rebound. On the first mark, they're 15th in the country in free throw point distribution, and second in the ACC - Maryland is first, but I don't think most would quantify Maryland as a consistently good offense. A full quarter of Wake's points come from the stripe, largely because they're so good getting there. A team like Maryland is one of the best in the country at not letting teams get to the line, though, and their athletic advantage should mean they don't find themselves in positions where they need to foul. Keeping Wake off the stripe would force them to rely on the other parts of their offense, and while those parts are efficient, they're a lot less efficient than 70% (which is what WF shoots from the line).
As for the offensive rebounding: Bzdelik is more of a "get back and defend" type of coach, but this also has to do with Wake's roster, which lacks an elite rebounding presence. Their offensive rebounding percentage on the year is only 26% - compared to, for instance, Maryland's 38%. It's the second-worst mark in the ACC, and if not for Boston College would've been the worst by a wide margin - about 100 spots nationally. Maryland has been one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country since Alex Len's debut, and should make sure Wake Forest has minimal second-chance opportunities.
Defensively, Wake is probably competent but not really good. They're dead last in the ACC in eFG% and have average, middle-of-the-pack rates in TO% and defensive rebounding%. They have some enforcers on the inside with Desrosiers and Walker, but otherwise they don't seem particularly effective. They've had some low defensive point totals - an average of 55 a game over their last two - but that was as much due to the turtle-speed pace of the game as anything else.
Maryland will likely push the tempo, which should get some easy buckets, and given that they're starting to hit their stride offensively in the half-court I'm not expecting too many problems. Especially with shots starting to fall from outside more (particularly from Stoglin), the Terrapins' offense should thrive against an average-at-best Wake Forest defense.
And not that it's mind-blowing news here, but as I said before Maryland is the better rebounding team of the two. They should be able to win the boards.
It's tough to get a hold of where Wake Forest really is. McKie and Harris are elite talents, and they win over Virginia Tech is actually pretty impressive - the Hokies aren't a bad team this year. But their black-eye losses, even the one that came without Harris, are pretty damning. Maryland is equally unpredictable, with a very high ceiling evident but also a penchant for sloppy play.
All things told, Maryland is probably the superior team here, and homecourt advantage is a nice bonus for a young team. The extra depth and middling Wake Forest defense may end up being the turning point in this one.