Maryland doesn't have to thank the ACC scheduling office, if such a thing exists, for much this year. They've been handed one of the conference's more difficult slates, and we've already made known the unhappiness surrounding the three-games-in-six-days fiasco of last week.
But, if there was any team for Maryland to continue its newfound momentum against, the struggling Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets might just well be that team. (I also would've accepted Boston College and Wake Forest.)
Maryland defeated the Yellow Jackets by 11 last time around, making the Yellow Jackets one of the few teams Maryland has definitively been better than in the ACC schedule. Since, you'd probably argue that the Terrapins have become better and more efficient, despite losing Pe'Shon Howard, as they continue to buy into Mark Turgeon's system. Tech? They lost their best player and leading scorer, Glen Rice, Jr., to an indefinite suspension, and have lost four straight and nine of their last ten. Last time out, a home game against lowly Clemson, they looked as inept as any ACC team has looked all year, managing only 37 points, shooting 31% from the field with 18 turnovers.
This isn't to say that the Terrapins can afford to take GT lightly - at this level and this stage of the season, that's not possible against any opposition. After all, they did come within a buzzer-beater of beating Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in their first Rice-less game. But the Yellow Jackets are deserving of their second-to-last place standing in the ACC. And Maryland, a team hitting an upswing walking into a team hitting a downswing, has a great opportunity to get back to .500 in the ACC.
I'll refer you back to our original preview for more information, if you're looking for it. The big difference between that team and this team is the absence of Rice, who was inconsistent but talented. Maryland largely neutralized him last time out - only six points - and that started off a bit of a rollercoaster stretch for Rice, who would have seven- (UVA) and four-point (UNC) games later, as well as 19- and 15-point outings. He wasn't quite the same player he was earlier in the year, which was part of GT's struggles, but that doesn't make his loss painless.
The two names that have really emerged - one on his own, one in the absence of Rice - that you didn't have to know before are Julian Royal, a 6-7 freshman combo forward, and Nick Foreman, a 6-3 senior guard, formerly a walk-on who earned a scholarship this year. Royal, through the Maryland game, was averaging only 13 minutes per game; since, it's been bumped up to 21. The athletic youngster has had a few good showings to show he deserves more time, including 11 points against Miami, 9 against UNC, and 9 against Clemson, in which he was one of only four GT players to score.
Foreman has seen his playing time increase largely thanks to the loss of Rice. In the six games Rice hasn't played this year, Foreman has logged about 15 minutes per game; in the other 20, only eight, and usually much lower than that (a few cupcakes artificially increased his PT). That said, Foreman isn't much of a threat, and more of Rice's minutes are being absorbed by other starters.
Those starters? They haven't really changed. Mfon Udofia is as inconsistent as ever: solid performances like 6-12 shooting for 14 points with only one turnover against Miami, or 6-8 shooting for 15 points against Virginia Tech, haven't been consistently replicated. He had an awful four-game stretch a few weeks ago in which he shot 6-34 from the field and didn't score a singe point twice. He's what he's always been: athletic, occasionally exciting, a solid defender, but erratic.
Kammeon Holsley, meanwhile, has been one of the very few reliable Yellow Jackets, and he's actually pretty underrated. The 6-8 sophomore power forward is averaging about 9 points per game on the season, but 12.6 in the last five, including a 5-5, 12-point game against Clemson when literally no one else could score. I'm actually looking forward to the James Padgett vs. Kammeon Holsley Gritty Underrated Post Player Battle Royale. It'll be a lot of fun, I'm sure.
The other two players I want to talk about, Daniel Miller and Jason Morris, have been trending in opposite directions. The 6-11 Miller had an unexpectedly solid showing last time out, and has slowly but surely performed better during ACC play. He's had a five-game stretch of double-digit point totals, during which he averaged over eight boards per game. He'll challenge whoever Maryland wants to put at the five. Morris, on the other hand, has been disappointing. The wing put up some big performances earlier in the year - point totals of 21 against Northwestern and 17 against Fordham - but has been nearly a non-factor in ACC play, averaging only 4.7 ppg since the last time these two played, including three games in which he didn't score at all.
As a team, Georgia Tech has remained a strong defensive unit, with the fifth-best defensive eFG% in the conference. They don't force a lot of turnovers, adopting the annoying Tony Bennett-esque low pressure defense that is swarming the conference (even College Park a bit), but otherwise can be tough to score against. Maryland only managed 0.91 points per possession against them last time out, their third-lowest total of the season (Duke and UVA being worse).
The troubles for the Jackets, as before, come offensively. They have the second-most inept offense in the country in points per possession (only BC is worse); they rarely get to the line; they're the worst three-point shooting team in the conference; their assist-to-turnover ratio is an ugly .72, the worst in the ACC, largely thanks to their 15 turnovers a game; in short, they struggle with most everything. And now that they've lost their most dangerous offensive weapon in Rice Jr., those problems are compounded. For a good example of the offensive ineptitude they're capable of, just look at the box score for the Clemson game and try not to die a little inside.
Holsley is a good bet to get his, almost no matter what. And guys like Morris and Udofia are capable of lighting the house up if you catch them on a good night. But if you don't, the end result is pretty darn ugly. Maryland isn't yet a great defensive presence, but they're improving; if they put in a good shift and don't let guys Morris and Udofia get loose, Tech is liable to crumble under the pressure. The key may actually be on the other end of the floor: can GT consistently lock down Terrell Stoglin, or at least disrupt Maryland's offensive rhythm? They did it a decent job of it last time but not quite well enough to cover up their own offensive inefficiencies, which give their opponent a fair amount of wiggle room.
There'll be more tomorrow, as always. But if I had to pick a road opponent for tomorrow's game, all things considered, I'm pretty sure it'd be Tech, even over BC. Hopefully I'm not made to regret those words.