Where + When: Noon at Comcast Center, College Park, Md.
Where to Watch: ESPN2. Huzzah for no ACC Network*!
Lines: Vegas: Maryland -6 KenPom: Maryland by 5
The Lefty Game. The ol' Lefthander will be honored at halftime, coinciding with the announcement of the bas-relief that was just recently announced. No particular reason for it coming against Clemson, but Lefty isn't in the building for Maryland basketball nearly enough these days. Him catching a conference game is long overdue.
Focus. I'm done talking about the NCAA Tournament, just taking Mark Turgeon's stance from here on out: Maryland's on the outside looking in, and if they get there they get there. If not, they don't. And that's about all I have to say about that. But the Terps do need to show some fight after a lackadaisical showing against Boston College. The Terps have twice lost back-to-back games this year, but both times the second was on the road and they upped their performance level. I'm expecting the same here, and in fact Mark Turgeon is demanding as much.
Meanwhile... Over on NBC Sports Network, there's a doozy of a lacrosse matchup, with Maryland and Loyola meeting in a title rematch from last year. That starts off at 1:00, so it looks like the GameThread today will end up pulling double-duty.
The Opponent (An Overview)
Clemson's predictably struggled, after losing most of their production from last year and bringing in a middling class. They're 13-12 on the year and 5-8 in the ACC, and are facing down a difficult back stretch of the season that could make their record rather unflattering come the end of the season. They actually have a few decent wins - a victory over Virginia is the big one - but have really struggled as the ACC season's gone on, especially of late: they've won only one of their last five.
Thing is, every team in the ACC is a threat. Look at it this way: last time out for Maryland, they lost to BC by double digits; last time out for Clemson, they took Miami to the death at home, falling only two points short of a monumental upset. Just before that they scored a semi-impressive victory by beating Georgia Tech on the road, and just before that they came within a point of beating N.C. State at home, too. Just like BC's near-upset of Duke should've served as a warning shot for Maryland's visit, so should this for the Terps: Clemson is all of three points away from having won three in a row, including would've-been-wins over Miami and N.C. State. And they've had a week of rest. They're not to be trifled with.
Where they cause teams problems, and what should worry Maryland given their makeup, is with their defense. They're not a terribly tall team, but they're long, athletic, and intense, and they're actually one of the conference's more efficient defenses. They absolutely shut down Miami when the two met a week ago, with the Canes ending up with a horrid .8 points per possession (1.00 is "good" - for a team to win with 0.8 is quite something), and they currently rank fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency in conference play. Their athleticism and commitment to defending makes it tough to get good looks consistently (4th in the conference in eFG%) and they actually lead the ACC in block percentage, led by jumping jack 6-6 wing K.J. McDaniels. It's a difficult defense to break down, one that's unforgiving, frustrating, and pesky. Another Logan Aronhalt NBA Jam-esque performance would be nice come noon.
The good news is that for as good as they are defensively, they're even worse with the ball, 11th in the conference in adjusted offensive efficiency. Save for pint-sized freshman guard Jordan Roper, there just aren't any shooters on the roster and they don't execute well enough in the half-court to consistently get decent looks. Things mostly run through Devin Booker, a widebody who stays close to the rim, and he's efficient both on the blocks and on the boards. But he's hardly an offensive juggernaut, and when he's taken out of the game there are few other options. McDaniels actually takes more shots than Booker, but he's a bit of a chucker and, unless he finds himself in Olivier Hanlan mode today, isn't likely to be terribly efficient.
Basically, if you're expecting a game to be easy on the eyes, this ain't it. Clemson plays slow, almost at a Virginia pace, but unlike the Hoos their plan of attack is based around having athleticism and turning games in scrums. Miami barely escaped from theirs, and it'll be a test for the Terps, too.
Expected Starting Fives
|Seth Allen (Fr., 6-1)||Jordan Roper (Fr., 5-11)|
|Dez Wells (So., 6-5)||Rod Hall (So., 6-1)|
|Jake Layman (Fr., 6-9)||K.J. McDaniels (So., 6-6)|
|James Padgett (Sr., 6-8)||Milton Jennings (Sr., 6-9)|
|Alex Len (So., 7-1)||Devin Booker (Sr., 6-8)|
Clemson's five is basically set in stone. Maryland's, though, will be fascinating. Alex Len and Dez Wells will start ... probably. Truth be told, I wouldn't be shocked with any change Mark Turgeon makes. Let Shaquille Cleare match up with similarly-sized Devin Booker? Does Seth Allen still start over Pe`Shon Howard and Nick Faust after basically looking like the third-stringer against BC? Does Logan Aronhalt get a look over Jake Layman after lighting up Boston College in a big way?
I don't know, so I'm holding steady with what seems to be Turgeon's default five at this point of the season. But I might as well just pick five names out of a hat; that probably has as much of a chance of being right.
Matchup to Watch
In truth, this game, like every game, hinges on what Alex Len does to his opposite number. Own him Plumlee-style? Clemson doesn't have a prayer. Completely disappear Odio-style? Well, it'll get pretty interesting. But I'm tired of saying the same ol' thing every game, so I'll mix things up and highlight a difference matchup: Dez Wells vs. K.J. McDaniels. That McDaniels is all of 6-6 and still third in the ACC in blocks per game should tell you everything you need to know about him. He's an immensely athletic, explosive defender, and while he's come and go offensively he can still make things happen just with his athleticism. He'll be an interesting foil for Wells, who rarely meets someone who can rightfully claim to be his athletic equal. McDaniels most certainly can, and their battle has the potential to be a mighty interesting one - especially if Wells shows up to play, ala at FSU.
I've decided to take a new tactic when it comes to trying to predict this team: figure out what's most logical, then do the exact opposite. What you traditionally expect to happen in a situation like this, with a Clemson team that might be finding itself and a Maryland team that's wavering, is a close, ugly, intensely frustrating game. Maryland probably comes out on top, most would think; the next most likely would be a close Clemson win.
So what do I think will happen? Somebody's blowing somebody out. Technically speaking, I suppose that could mean Clemson, but think it's more likely to be Maryland: the Terps won't lack for focus after going back into backs-against-the-wall mode, and while Clemson is making strides they're also not particularly fearsome. Maryland's at home, which is a good sign for a young team that is really struggling on the road. Calling it here: they show up in a big way, win by double-digits, and then the pendulum of confusion and hysteria swings the other way. At least until the next road game.
Terps 77, Clemson 52.