Maryland Terrapins-Miami Hurricanes Preview: Conference Opponent III: Raising 'Canes

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Turgeon and the Terrapins head south to Miami for their third ACC game of the season - a game that's taken on a newfound urgency in the wake of the Terps' wake-up loss to Florida State.

What: Maryland looks to rebound from their harrowing loss to Florida State with a trip to the surprisingly dangerous Miami Hurricanes

Where + When: 8:00 pm at BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Fl.

Where to Watch: ESPNU

Line: Vegas: Miami -6.5 KenPom: Miami by 8 Sagarin: Miami by 9

Notes/Storylines:

Directions. A week ago, I'd have guessed most Maryland fans expected to be standing where Miami is at the moment: undefeated in the conference, riding high, looking like a darkhorse conference contender. Instead it's the 'Canes who have proven to be the upstarts, having taken Georgia Tech to the woodshed in Atlanta before beating UNC in Chapel Hill. With N.C. State toppling Duke last night, Miami all of a sudden has an opening at the top end of the conference to raise a ruckus. If there's going to be a troublemaker for the Tobacco Road powerhouses this season, it might be Miami instead of Maryland.

Meanwhile, the Terrapins find themselves in flux. The loss to Florida State opened eyes to the reality of Maryland's situation, which is that they're young, inconsistent, untested and incomplete. There are still the pieces of a really good team on this roster, but it's no longer certain that they actually are a really good team. The next several games offer a few marquee win opportunities, and if Maryland fancies themselves a postseason team, they're going to need to win at least a few of them.

Bouncing back. Speaking of that loss to Florida State: one of the quiet worries, one I haven't seen discussed but is a legitimate one, is how Maryland responds to that type of setback. They had won 13 straight. They were confident. They were on the edge of the top 25. They were almost completely untested prior. This is the first time in months that this team's been faced with adversity, and with so much youth on the roster it's impossible to know how they'll respond. You obviously hope and believe it'll be a positive reaction, as it often is, but not every team always has that bounce back up. Here's hoping Maryland does.

Lineups. Mark Turgeon readily announced a few days ago that Shaquille Cleare would start at center, moving Alex Len to the four - a highly-intriguing, proactive plan to deal with Miami's size. Cleare, however, missed Saturday's practice with back spasms, meaning he'll play - if available - but certainly won't start. Turgeon did hint, though, that a change at point guard may be coming, and that may be even more interesting to keep an eye on. The likely options - Pe`Shon Howard and Seth Allen - are both imperfect and consist largely of settling in at least some manner: Howard's a good distributor but erratic and offers little scoring, while Allen's more dynamic and productive but also more mistake-prone and less of a traditional pivot-style Turgeon point guard. The dark horse option is, of course, a return to the Nick Faust point guard days, something that Turgeon refused to rule out before the year but that we've seen little of since the start of the season. It's not something you'd expect, but without another clear option, it's not an impossibility.

First time for everything. One of the odd statistical quirks of the new ACC: Maryland's still yet to win a game at Miami. They're 4-8 against the 'Canes since they joined the ACC, and 0-6 on the road - truly baffling stats, considering that Miami's been an average program over that spell and rarely has much of a home court advantage. A win's gotta come eventually, though, and this would be a darn good time for it.

The Opponent (An Overview)

Miami came in as one of those obvious darkhorse candidates: they were experienced, coached by the wily Jim Larranagga, and had an interesting aspect on their roster (size) that few teams could compete with. So when lost to Florida Gulf Coast by double-digits early in the year - albeit without star guard Durand Scott - it was a major shock and a major disappointment. They ended up beating Michigan State just a few weeks later - with the services of Scott, notably - and hopes were high for them once again. Of course, that was short-lived, as Reggie Johnson would break his hand another few weeks later, with Miami getting pummeled by Arizona and upset by Indiana State without their big senior. But the rollercoaster continued, as the 'Canes jumped back with two big wins over Georgia Tech and UNC to kick off the ACC season.

With a full deck, Miami's a heck of a fearsome team, perhaps with the best roster in the conference behind N.C. State. Without Johnson in the lineup, they're decidedly less impressive, but still plenty dangerous, as their two most recent wins should show. There's no real star on the roster, unless you count Scott - who is, in truth, a hugely dynamic and dangerous weapon - but Miami has more experience than anyone else in the conference, and plenty of talent, too: Scott, Shane Larkin, and Kenny Kadji are all top-tier ACC talents, and Larranagga has worked well with the other pieces. There's still damage to be done.

Don't expect a track meet, though: Miami's a slow, plodding team built around its big men, and it will remain that way even without Johnson in the lineup. They prefer to operate in the halfcourt, taking care of the ball and using mismatches on the interior to open things up for their shooters like Larkin and Trey McKinney Jones, with Scott able to create his own shot when things bog down. It's a very well-balanced offense, one that will seriously test Maryland's defensive mettle. They're a strong defensive team, too, with the size and athleticism to match physically match virtually any team in the country, plus the experience to play cohesive team defense. They're a tough nut to crack.

But Larranagga hasn't built up much depth, and that may be an area for Maryland to exploit. Miami's 10th in the ACC in bench minutes, and without Reggie Johnson that ranking should only drop. They go about eight-deep, and Larranagga looks to leave his preferred six or so guys in as much as he can. Maryland, by comparison, leads in the ACC in bench minutes, and it may make sense to try to run Miami out of the game: drag Kadji and Gamble up and down the floor all game long, don't let it turn into a halfcourt contest, use the Terps' depth and athleticism to stretch the 'Canes thin. It'll be an interesting test case when it comes to Turgeon's tactics.

Expected Starting Fives:

Maryland Miami
Seth Allen (Fr., 6-1) Seth Larkin (So., 5-11)
Nick Faust (So., 6-6) Durand Scott (Sr., 6-5)
Dezmine Wells (So., 6-5) Trey McKinney Jones (Sr., 6-5)
Charles Mitchell (Fr., 6-8) Kenny Kadji (Sr., 6-11)
Alex Len (So., 7-1) Julian Gamble (Sr., 6-10)

I'll take a gamble and say that Allen starts over Howard, for one big reason: an obvious potential gameplan is to try to run, and if that's the case then Allen - the more athletic and dynamic option - makes some sense. He's at his best when the game is free-flowing and open, which might be the exact scenario Maryland's trying to achieve. He'd also help counteract the problem-causing quickness of Larkin, something Howard may struggle with. It'd be a risky move, but it'd also be a tactical one - and Turgeon's already shown a willingness to make that type of move with the insertion of Cleare into the starting five (even if that had to be undone).

Miami's pretty settled, though positionally speaking I'd expect Len to match with Kadji and Wells with Scott. Other than that, things should match up pretty evenly.

Matchup to Watch

While Len-Kadji and Scott-Wells figure to be battles royale, I'm most intrigued by something else entirely: Shane Larkin vs. Maryland's point guards. Frankly, Larkin looks in many ways like Seth Allen all grown up. He's quick, clever, dangerous, and smart, with quick hands thrown in to boot. Allen prefers to operate off the ball and is more a scorer than Larkin is, but the two will match up at some point, and when they do it'll be hugely interesting.

Thing is, Larkin plays almost every minute of every game, which means he'll get plenty of time with both Allen and Howard, no matter who starts. Larkin's cleverness could cause problems for Allen on both side of the floor; same holds for his quickness against Howard. Scott and the big men get all the credit, but Larkin's been a fulcrum for Miami's success this season, and he'll challenge perhaps Maryland's weakest position.

Four Factors

As we learned last week, Four Factors can be a little useless when there's a big disparity in competition, and that disclaimer holds true yet again. As more conference games are played, these figures will normalize, but until then keep in mind that Miami's had one of the toughest non-con schedules in the ACC and Maryland's had certainly the weakest. So Maryland may have an advantage in three of the factors, but not only do you have to worry about that big difference in turnover rate, you also have to remember that these numbers are still slightly inflated.

Prediction

I want to pick Maryland. Badly. I want to say they're a better team than we saw against Florida State, that they needed a wake-up call and will be back to full force, that they're going to cause problems for a Miami team missing it's best player and boasting precious little depth. And to some degree I do still believe that. It may just be that they're hitting the wrong opponent at the wrong time. Maryland's trying to find itself; Miami's riding high. Maryland's now realizing that their offense is haltingly inconsistent; Miami held GT under 50 points and UNC under 60(!). Maryland may still be adjusting to the higher level of competition; Miami's playing at home and might well be the conference's third-best team.

The idea of a 1-2 start with back-to-back losses to the Florida schools is a scary prospect, but it's one I wouldn't be surprised with, either. Unless we see a shockingly poor response the FSU loss, Maryland will make a game of this, lead for long stretches, and have a shot late. But Miami's just too experienced and too settled: Canes 68, Maryland 62.

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