The Return of Okaro. - Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Florida State's win over Maryland the first time around looks like the one that got away for the Terrapins. But they'll have their chance at redemption - and, crucially, a semi-respectable road win - come 8:00 tonight.
What: Maryland looks to get back on track in ACC play with a nigh-critical game in Tallahassee against flailing Florida State
Where + When: 8:00 at Donald L. Tucker Center in Tallahassee, Fl.
Where to Watch: ACC Network*, so check your affiliate lists here. It's a pretty bare-bones showing, as far as affiliates go - but you, guy who lives in Meridian, Mississippi, are in luck! - so many of you will be relegated to watching online, either on ESPN3 or at the ACC's official site.
Line: Vegas: Florida State -2.5 KenPom: Maryland by 1
Rematch. Oh, goody: we finally get Maryland's first repeat opponent of the season, with the first meeting between these two ending up a 65-62 Florida State victory in College Park. That has the potential to be a real "game that got away" come March, when it might even be classified as a bad loss on the Terps' resumé. They were in control for the entire first twenty minutes and the game arguably should've been out of sight by halftime, but a miserable offensive outing in the second half gave Florida State their way back into the game, and presented a blueprint on how to beat the Terrapins: pressure the ball to expose their lack of ballhandlers, force them to make shots on the perimeter, and stay within touching distance, because the Terps' youngsters will buckle at some point. It also helps, of course, to get Alex Len in foul trouble.
Has Maryland fixed any of those problems? Not particularly. Mark Turgeon's adjustments will be fascinating to see, and their success is going to be an interesting test of his coaching acumen.
Going downhill. Did Maryland catch Florida State just a little too early last time around? The Seminoles' results since that game: a loss to UNC by 5, a loss to Virginia by 20, a win over Clemson by 3, and a loss to Miami by 24. Maryland has had some poor results, too, but not quite that poor. The wheels are starting to come off for the 'Noles, with Michael Snaer going miss and freshman guard Montay Brandon apparently forgetting how to play basketball (his last three offensive ratings are an absolutely Pe`Shon Howard-esque 29, 25, and 37, with 100 being the baseline for "good"). But perhaps the biggest issue isn't necessarily anything structural as much as it is just plain ol' inconsistency. It wouldn't be the first time that's been FSU's bane. Throw in an injury to junior big man (and starter) Terrence Shannon? They might well be ripe for the taking.
Crossroads. We can talk about FSU's struggles of late, but you can bet they'll be doing the same thing to Maryland. After all, the Terps have lost 2 of their last 3, and 4 of their last 6. Given the relatively high level of those losses, they're perhaps somewhat misleading - losing by 7 on the road to the best team in the conference isn't anything to be ashamed of, for instance - but negative momentum is negative momentum, and it's building up for the Terps right now. For a young team like this, there's a danger in that spiraling out of control; even if it doesn't, it's unquestionable that the Terps need to start racking up wins for the NCAA Tournament. A loss here would make that prospect seem mighty unlikely.
Rotations. Is Maryland's rotation finally settling in? After Juan knows how much experimentation, it seems like Mark Turgeon is at last figuring out the guys he wants on the floor for the Terps. Dez Wells played 36 minutes against Duke; Alex Len, 34; Nick Faust, 30. With Turgeon seeming confident in Jake Layman as a starter, plus one of Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare depending on matchups, there's a rhythm emerging to Maryland's rotation and starting lineup, especially with some of the lower end of the bench, like James Padgett (who got all of six minutes) and Logan Aronhalt (10) finding a lower but more consistent minutes total. Some kinks still need to get worked out - what to do with the Pe`Shon Howard / Seth Allen situation? how do you maximize Charles Mitchell's effectiveness and minutes? - but I'm expecting things to make more sense, for lack of a better word, when the Terps play tonight.
Road troubles. Maryland's won one road game all of this season. Mark Turgeon's won one ACC road game in his career. Suffice it to say that travelling isn't the Terps' strength, perhaps due to their youth, which leads to them being more easily intimidated. Having already dropped a home game, though, and with the likes of Duke and UNC still to visit College Park, they need to rack up some road Ws. Might as well start now.
The Opponent (An Overview)
Florida State's pretty much the same team they were the last time Maryland met them: they're big - really big, actually - they play aggressive defense and force turnovers, they have one all-ACC level talent in Michael Snaer, they rely on outside shooting probably more than they should, and ... everything else is kind of a work-in-progress. Only now they're missing 6-8 junior power forward Terrence Shannon, who grabbed eight rebounds in College Park, Snaer is proving even more enigmatic than usual, and offensive inconsistency is plaguing them almost as much as it is Maryland.
There's not a whole heck of a lot that Florida State's done well since the start of ACC play, aside from forcing turnovers, an area in which they remain among the conference's best. Other than that: their eFG% has dropped through the floor, their turnover percentage is shocking, and they've even forgotten how to rebound: despite their massive size, they're dead last in both OReb% and DReb% in conference play.
Thing is, we know FSU isn't that bad, that this is probably a slump brought on by their traditional inconsistency. But unless they snap out of it come Wednesday - and it wouldn't be the first time if a team did do just that - they're a reeling team struggling to do much of anything.
Expected Starting Fives
|Nick Faust (So., 6-6)||Terry Whisnant (So., 6-3)|
|Dez Wells (So., 6-5)||Montay Brandon (Fr., 6-7)|
|Jake Layman (Fr., 6-8)||Michael Snaer (Sr., 6-5)|
|Alex Len (So., 7-1)||Okaro White (Jr., 6-8)|
|Shaquille Cleare (Fr., 6-9)||Kiel Turpin (Jr., 7-0)|
Emphasis is on expected here; either side could see changes, maybe even wholesale changes. On Maryland's end, are they sticking with the Faust / Wells ballhandler experiment? Is Jake Layman still The Guy in that third perimeter spot, or is it Seth Allen? Has Charles Mitchell earned a start on the back of a strong performance against Duke, combined with the fact that he matches up better with Okaro White? Or is Shaquille Cleare going to get a go for continuity's sake?
For FSU, they're reeling and coming off a 24-point loss, which is exactly when you'd expect some changes to be made. Ian Miller played very well off the bench in that loss - he was about the only one to really get out with some credit - so he may push to replace Whisnant (who barely plays starter minutes to begin with) or Brandon (who had an absolute shocker of a performance).
We'll assume stasis. But change is very possible too.
Quite well-balanced, but also a little misleading, given that FSU's rebounded worse than anyone in the conference in ACC play, on both sides of the ball, which is deeply at odds with their out-of-conference performance. TO rate has dropped as well, though Maryland's disinclination to pressure ballhandlers means that won't likely factor in much at all.
Matchup to Watch
Simple: Okaro White vs. whoever Maryland uses to try to guard Okaro White. He tore up Maryland in College Park last time around, putting up 20 points, 9 boards, and 6 blocks, and he's the only Seminole who's played well since that game, putting up 15 and 6 on UNC and playing quiet but efficient ball in each of FSU's last three. He's a problem matchup for the Terps, which should be obvious given their last meeting. His quickness and assertiveness give Alex Len problems; his quickness and athleticism are issues for Shaquille Cleare; his quickness and length make it difficult for Charles Mitchell, too. (This, my friends, is why I always want a jumping jack or stretch four on the roster.) I'll take a stab and say that Len will be the first to get a crack at him, but whoever plays against him needs to have their motor running, if last game is any indication.
Oh, and a note about White: when he came into FSU, he was ranked 43rd in the nation in RSCI's composite rankings. You know who was 43rd the next year? Nick Faust. Last year, many FSU fans were saying some of the same things Marylanders are saying about Faust; now White has the team's best offensive rating. These things work differently for everybody, but it's an interesting reminder that sometimes guys take awhile to come into their own.
This is an intriguing one, in some respects, with two inconsistent teams not at their best and coming off a stretch of difficult results. It's even more odd because it's one of those strength vs. weakness type of games, on both sides: Maryland's still rebounding as well as anyone in the country, while Florida State's seemingly abandoned the boards on both ends of the floor; meanwhile, FSU continues to play pressure defense and force turnovers, which is going to hurt the Terrapins, as the conference's most turnover-prone team. Expect to see a lot of turnovers and a lot of rebounds. And probably a very ugly game.
And yet I do have some optimism, partially because Shannon is a big loss for FSU, partially because the 'Noles are struggling so much, but also partially because this feels like a game where Maryland puts some things together. If not, well, at least we can probably watch the rest of the year without much pressure. 61-57 to the good guys.