Maryland Terrapins-Wake Forest Demon Deacons Preview: Terps looking to grasp bounce-back opportunity

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Terps stop the bleeding? This is as good an opportunity as they're likely to have.

What: Maryland, which has lost two in a row and three of its last four, including a heartbreaker/gutpunch combo against Florida State, looks to right the ship against equally-flailing Wake Forest, returning home to the comforts of the Comcast Center

Where + When: 2:00 at Comcast Center, College Park, Md.

Where to Watch: CSN for the locals, plus NESN, Fox Sports South, Fox Sports Carolinas, and a smattering of other RSNs. Will also be on ESPN3 - on blackout, of course. 2014 can't get here soon enough.

Line: Vegas: Maryland -11 KenPom: Maryland by 11 Sagarin: Maryland by 11

Notes / Storylines

Perfect timing? Maryland finds itself in a very dangerous situation right now. They're a five-point home win over Boston College away from losing four in a row, and were just dealt an absolute sucker-punch by Michael Snaer. The right things are being said, but this is a young team that's struggled with composure all season long, and this is when they'll be at their most vulnerable in that sense. Good thing, then, that they're facing perhaps the conference's worst team outside of Virginia Tech. Wake Forest isn't as awful as they might've been, but they're not very good, either. If Maryland had to get somebody when they're like this, Wake Forest at home is about the best you could ask for.

Starting five, still unsettled. Mark Turgeon made yet another lineup change against Florida State, inserting Seth Allen into the five instead of Nick Faust. Allen responded by going 1-6 from the field for two points in 16 minutes. Faust was comparatively solid, going 3-6 from the field for eight points and only one turnover in 27 minutes. He missed three big free throws, but other than he was one of the Terrapins' quietly more efficient players. So now Turgeon's faced with yet another decision: what does he do with the lineup? And not just the starting five, but even the rotation. Maryland goes 10 deep, but each of those 10 guys is liable to bring it or go completely anonymous any given day. Fans have long been asking Turgeon to pick a shortened rotation and go with it, but he's been reluctant to do that, largely due to how unpredictable this team is. He's faced with yet more difficult decisions now.

Hey, it's actually a must-win this time. I've been loathe to use the word must-win this year, because it's so over-used - I think the closest I've come is calling a game "almost a must-win" - but this one? This one genuinely is. The ironic part of it is, of course, that few people are actually saying it this time, because Wake Forest at home isn't glamorous and a lot of people have already been disappointed by the losses in the not-quite-must-wins. But there's still a path to relevance this year. It's a hell of a hard path, with no margin from error, and it's quite unlikely that Maryland makes it successfully. But it's there. If they beat Wake Forest, it's still there. If they lose? Not only will the season be effectively done, rendering this the program's second Year Zero in a row, but I imagine pitchforks and burning couches will be out in full force.

Ours is better. Devin Thomas, Wake Forest's 6-9 freshman forward, dropped 25 and 14 on N.C. State and 15 and 6 on Duke. He's also still not nearly as good as his sister.

Rec specs. C.J. Harris is wearing them.

The Opponent (An Overview)

Meet this year's Wake Forest, same as last year's Wake Forest, which was the same as the Wake Forest the year before that, which was drastically worse than the Wake Forest the year before that. That's just one long way to say, "Bravo, Jeff Bzdelik, for driving Wake Forest into the ground." It's Bzdelik's third year in charge, and the program has had to more or less start over each time with minimal progress made, making this undoubtedly his make-or-break season-in-charge. And the results are ... uninspiring. The Deacs are 10-10 on the year, with losses to Nebraska, Iona, Seton Hall, and Richmond, and they stand at 3-5 in the ACC. That's actually better than you might've expected from this bunch, especially given that one of those wins came over now-surging Virginia and another against N.C. State, but it's not going to quelch too many of the fires under Bz's seat.

What it should do, though, is show you that even if Wake Forest is largely unimpressive on their face, they're also not to be trifled with. Virginia and N.C. State are both hugely inconsistent, sure, but then again so is Maryland, and the Terrapins are a team arguably of lower quality than either of the aforementioned two. Facing Wake Forest gives the Terps some margin of error, but if they're still feeling the effects of Snaer's buzzer-beater, Wake will make them pay.

Things still run through C.J. Harris and Travis McKie, just as they did last year, and both remain efficient, useful ACC players. McKie, the 6-7 junior combo forward, is the more dangerous of the two; he has a huge motor and never stops working, is one of the conference's best rebounders, is a very good defender, and gets to the line at a high rate, to boot. He's not a huge offensive weapon, but he'll get his 14 points or so almost every game, and while he's a bit in-between positions, can be a very difficult matchup. Harris is more of a traditional two-guard, the team's best shooter and a threat from the perimeter, shooting 42% from deep. Both will need to be taken care of, because they're far and away WF's most potent threats.

Past that, the Deacons are very young, with some promising young pieces, like the aforementioned Thomas and playmaking guards Codi Miller-McIntyre and Madison Jones. But their youngsters aren't that much better than Maryland's, and they're certainly no less inconsistent. Which team's young players show up to play may well decide the game.

It will be interesting to keep track of the pace the game is played at, because unlike many of the ACC's bottom-feeders, Wake doesn't play at that of a snail's. Bz lets his guys run, despite not having a particularly deep bench. Maryland, of course, is still trying to figure out if they're a run'n'gun team or a grind-it-out team, but you get the feeling that Wake's going to try to turn this into a track meet: force Maryland to execute on the break offensively, and get their buckets before the Terps can set their defense up. Saving that, watch for the foul count: one of the few things Wake does consistently well is get to the line, with the 11th best free throw rate in the country.

Expected Starting Fives

Maryland Wake Forest
Nick Faust (So., 6-6) Madison Jones (Fr., 6-1)
Dez Wells (So., 6-5) Codi Miller-McIntyre (Fr., 6-3)
Jake Layman (Fr., 6-8) C.J. Harris (Sr., 6-3)
Charles Mitchell (Fr., 6-8) Travis McKie (Jr., 6-7)
Alex Len (So., 7-1) Devin Thomas (Fr., 6-9)

Wake Forest's starting lineup I feel comfortable about. That's more or less the five they're going to go with, barring any surprises. But Maryland? Ha. Good luck picking out that starting five.

I went ultimately with what I'd do, but that's not necessarily what Mark Turgeon will do. I'm not ruling out Turgeon inserting Seth Allen or even James Padgett into that five - hell, I'm not convinced he won't trot out Pe`Shon Howard, Dez, Logan Aronhalt, Spencer Barks, and John Auslander, broken tibia and all. You just can't predict it with any certainty. But Wells will start, we know that, and we think that Len will, too. Beyond that: this is a game for Mitchell in large stretches, you would think, to combat McKie's energy, while Faust outplayed Allen against FSU and is still the second-best perimeter player on the team. Wake Forest is going to go small enough that Allen, Howard, or Aronhalt could play in that third perimeter spot, if Turgeon desires it, but Layman really is his guy and I expect he'll continue to show loyalty there. But if there's a change, I wouldn't be shocked if it was Aronhalt in at the two-guard spot, to stretch the floor and allow space for Faust, Wells, and Len to operate inside the arc.

Four Factors

Wake's still getting to the line at that incredible rate, but what's scary about this graph is that they've actually started to rebound much better as of late, erasing the area where Maryland had a clear advantage. They handle the ball better, too, which is to be expected. But look at that eFG%: Wake Forest shoots worse than Maryland. That takes some doing.

Matchup to Watch

Alex Len vs. Devin Thomas. Thomas doesn't have elite size - he's closer to 6-8 than 6-9, despite his listed height - but he's bulky, at 240 pounds, and has plenty of energy and willingness to bang down low. Len, though he's shown flashes, still appears to be a shrinking violet at times. It's clear that they need more out of him than he brought against Florida State, and on the surface, this is a game where he should be doing exactly that: bringing more. He's up against a much smaller, less experienced player. Len hasn't always dominated those matchups, but it'd make the game a heck of a lot easier if he could today.

Prediction

For the first time in quite a long time, I do feel comfortable predicting a Maryland win, but not a comfortable Maryland win. I don't have that much faith in this team, not coming off what just happened to them. Truth be told, this could go any number of ways, including a few I'd rather not think about. But the most likely is that it's a blow-by-blow affair with Maryland just barely pulling away in the final 10:00 or so, holding off a late Wake Forest charge. I'm no longer sure of how they get there, but this feels like a six- or seven-point Terps win.

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