Maryland Terrapins-Virginia Tech Hokies preview: Terps look to build momentum at slumping VT

USA TODAY Sports

Mark Turgeon and the Terps go for their first ACC road win against struggling Virginia Tech.

What: The Maryland Terrapins visit the reeling Virginia Tech Hokies, looking to finally build a bit of momentum

Where + When: 9:00 at Cassel Coliseum, Blacksburg, Va.

Where to Watch: ACC Network*, so check the affiliate list here. (Random affiliate of the week goes to Phoenix, Arizona. Congratulations, Phonecians among us.) You'll also be able to catch it on ESPN3 if you're not in luck.

Line: Vegas: Maryland -5 KenPom: Maryland by 6

Notes / Storylines

Momentum. Can Maryland finally get some? They haven't won two in a row since beating VT the first time around, back in early January. They'll need to be rolling the entire rest of the year to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament, so finally building up some positive mojo is a necessity. Not least because a loss to Virginia Tech - on the road or not - would sink the season in a big way.

Did Maryland turn an offensive corner? The Terps looked damned good against Wake Forest offensively - as good as they've looked all year, in fact. It's weak competition, sure, but that doesn't mean the performance wasn't encouraging, or that it can't herald a forthcoming improvement. It just needs they need to be tested more to know for sure. Virginia Tech's defense isn't much of a test, but more info is more info.

Settling in. To couple with the other points, a win here might settle down Maryland's rotations and lineups for good, save for the odd little tweak now and again. Mark Turgeon's said he's going to keep things the same as they were against Wake Forest, a lineup that wasn't necessarily very balanced but is certainly more experienced and was at least able to put the Deacs to the sword. I'm not sure that's necessarily a great idea, given the quality of opposition, but at this point I'll ignore those feelings in return for finally getting a bit of a rhythm.

On the road again. This is an immensely unfair stat for Maryland, given the opposition they've played on the road, but they've still won only a single true road game this year, and haven't yet notched an ACC road win. Of which, of course, Mark Turgeon's only won one himself. There are no gimme games in the ACC, but this is as close as you'll get. If they're going to get off the road schneid, it'll probably have to be here.

The Opponent (An Overview)

Remember when I said Virginia Tech looked like the fourth or fifth best team in the ACC? Well, at one point, they did. But yeah, the wheels have certainly fallen off since then, with the Hokies looking like perhaps the worst team in the ACC midway through the conference slate. They stand at 2-6, having beaten only Georgia Tech (in overtime) and Boston College (at home), with four straight losses really dampening the mood in Blacksburg.

And yet they're still not to be overlooked, not too much. Those four straight losses have come against Virginia at home (by an admittedly not impressive scoreline), Clemson on the road (a less-worrisome seven-point deficit), Miami at home (which they admirably kept in double-digits) and UNC on the road (a game they took to overtime). They can be blown out against teams that execute - see what the Cavs did to them in their 16-point win - but taking UNC to the wire and Miami within striking distance shows that they're not entirely to be trifled with. They can still put up points when they want to, and Erick Green remains one of the conference's most dangerous offense weapons.

They've drastically slowed their pace in conference play, no longer looking like a high-major version of VMI. Their offensive effectiveness has dropped along with that, although somewhat predictably given that they finally started to run into some of the ACC's heavy-hitters. They don't have the talent to run with most of the conference - more possessions would only serve to exaggerate the difference in quality. So they've taken to grinding games out, which isn't really their forte, but it does serve to minimize some of their weaknesses. And with Erick Green on their side, that's probably enough.

But teams who execute offensively can have their way with VT, given how poorly they play defense. They're the conference's worst defense team in efficiency, allowing upwards of 50% defensive eFG%, rebounding at a poor rate, allowing more assists per made shot than anyone in the conference - indicative of high-quality looks, usually - and forcing fewer turnovers than anyone in the conference, even fewer than Maryland. If Maryland's going to continue their offensive Renaissance, you'd expect them to have no problems with the Hokies' D.

Expected Starting Fives

Maryland Virginia Tech
Nick Faust (So., 6-6) Erick Green (Sr., 6-3)
Dez Wells (So., 6-5) Robert Brown (So., 6-5)
Jake Layman (Fr., 6-8) Jarrell Eddie (Jr., 6-7)
James Padgett (Sr., 6-8) C.J. Barksdale (So., 6-8)
Alex Len (So., 7-1) Cadarian Raines (Jr., 6-9)

For once, I'm not expecting any surprises on either side. And what's more, it's pretty much a straight matchup across the board: Faust will guard Green, Wells on Brown, Layman on Eddie, Padgett on Barksdale, and Len on Raines. I expect Maryland to go big consistently to try to stretch VT's minimal interior depth as much as possible, given that Barksdale won't be able to match either Len or Cleare and things really dry up past him. Faust or Dez should have a couple inches on Green offensively, though, so one of them will hopefully have a big day.

Matchup to Watch

Virginia Tech hinges on Erick Green, which means the game will hinge on Erick Green vs. Nick Faust. Turgeon's already said that Faust will match up with Green, which is probably a pretty good idea; while Wells could do a job against him, I'd still back Faust against most anyone when playing man-to-man defense. Maryland can win even if Green has a good game, but Virginia Tech can't win if he has a clunker. Stifle Green - easier said than done, admittedly - and nip their upset hopes in the bud.

Four Factors

Thing about the Four Factors in this instance: VT's so bad at them defensively that you'd expect Maryland to reap the benefits drastically enough to make up any apparent offensive deficits. They're already a better-shooting team and much better on the boards; I expect VT's propensity to foul and Maryland's own ability to avoid sending guys to the line will even out the free throws, too. They'll probably still win the turnover battle - because it's still Maryland basketball, after all - but I'd be surprised if they won any other vital stat.

Prediction

Maryland's the better team overall, and they're playing better basketball as of late. They match up well, create mismatches of their own, and terrorized the Hokies at the Comcast Center last time around. There's very, very little pointing to this being anything other than an easy Terps win - perhaps even by double digits.

Except ... it's on the road. Scientifically, that's all of an eight-point swing. Usually, at least. But Mark Turgeon's only beaten one ACC team on the road, and this iteration of Maryland has beaten none. Okay, sure, the road games were against Miami, UNC, Duke, and FSU, but the bookended two perhaps should've been wins on their day, only to be foiled by silly mistakes that seem a lot higher when Maryland takes to the road. It's a young team, it happens. And one day it'll stop happening. But it concerns me.

Call this the day the page is turned, though. Erick Green struggles through the second half, Alex Len shows up, and Maryland ends up winning it 77-68.

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