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Tip-off is at 7:00 on ESPN2, with Jon Sciambi and the getting-more-annoying-by-the-day Jay Bilas on the call. (I know I'm in the minority on Bilas, and he's admittedly a smart guy. I just find him borderline unbearable at times.) Preview, via Pete, is here.
The Big Question, I: who starts? I'll go out on a limb and say that Nick Faust gets the nod at the point with Seth Allen moving in off the ball and Shaquille Cleare at the five, which I think might be something that Turgeon seems as a long-term preferable lineup. Like I said yesterday, there's a lot to like about a Faust-Allen-Dez one-through-three, with Alex Len and Cleare providing balance to each other as well in the post. If there's a grouping of five that Just Makes Sense on Maryland's roster, I think it's probably that one. Sure, it's young, and Cleare's probably a long ways off being ready (Allen as well, though less so), but it's obvious now that no other combination is working at the moment, either. That being the case, might as well give a long-term, more-balanced lineup a go and at least get them ready for the future.
The Big Question, II: what's the proper degree of optimism here? N.C. State isn't great, but they did just beat Duke and, quite frankly, probably have the best roster in the conference. Meanwhile, Maryland's tanking - sure, they're tanking against good teams, but then again N.C. State's an even better team than the two they just lost to in supremely unconvincing fashion. So what's with fans largely thinking this game will come down to the wire, with many calling it a Maryland win? And it isn't solely a "fans can be strange" question, either - what is Vegas seeing that's making them put the line at Terps -2? Just how optimistic are we supposed to be about this? Because I see very little reason to feel like this is a game Maryland's supposed to win, even though the growing consensus seems to be just that.
Random, Baseless Prediction: Pe`Shon Howard takes well to coming off the bench, finishing with three assists and at least one made jumper. Everyone will then forget the past two weeks and begin a "Free Pe'" movement.
Prediction: Technically speaking, I'm duty-bound to pick Maryland here, because the last time I picked N.C. State we all saw what happened. But truthfully speaking, I don't believe Maryland will win this. I believe they'll look good, better than they did against FSU and Miami, and that the Nick Faust experiment will go pretty well, but that there's just not enough talent or experience to match State. The margin could be anywhere between three or four all the way to fifteen or so and I wouldn't be surprised, and I'd expect the game itself - that Maryland looks good and encouraging, but is just a little too lacking in quality - would look more or less the same no matter the final score.
And then there's the scarier possibility, the chance that Maryland gets completely exposed and taken to the woodshed. That's what Pete called this morning, and while I think that's pessimistic, I'm frightened by how real it could be, at least looking at it objectively. Maryland's starting to slide, but they haven't been hit by a train yet. If that train is coming, there are a lot of pieces pointing to it being N.C. State. And if that happens, Juan save the GameThread, because it'll be hell on Earth.
Then there's the third scenario, the one that everyone seems to be calling: Maryland rallies after two poor performances and gets its stuff together, while N.C. State has its stereotypical Duke hangover. The Nick Faust experiment works, Seth Allen unleashes hell, and Alex Len shows up. Maryland struggles at times simply because their lack of experience will prevent them from putting together 40 minutes of basketball, but they have enough to win by single digits.
I'm going to say #3 is the answer, and go Terps 73-68. But that's largely because I have to; I'm afraid I think Scenario #1 is probably the most likely of the three.
Guessing Game: Nick Faust's total points and assists, with made three-pointers as tiebreaker. Go.