Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
The first round of the ACC Tournament features a third round of Maryland-Wake Forest, with the Terps looking to right their listing ship and go for the season sweep of the Deacs.
Where + When: 7:00 at Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C. On another note, can't wait until this is in real cities again.
Where to Watch: ESPNU.
Line: Vegas: Maryland -5.5 KenPom: Maryland by 6
Reeling. Remember when we thought Maryland would finish 4-2 down the stretch, with a realistic chance of 5-1 or better? Yeah, not exactly how things went. The Terps ended up going 2-4 in their last six, dropping games to Boston College and Georgia Tech before losing their final two to UNC and UVA, with the Virginia loss in particular coming in heart-breaking fashion. They've had a solid three days of rest in between the overtime loss in Charlottesville and this game, but there has to be some concern about where they are mentally. They're losing more than they're winning right now to begin with, and how they react to a gutpunch of a loss will be critical.
Tournament troubles. The Terps have had issues in the ACC Tournament lately, only once getting out of the second round alive in the last eight tournaments. Before that, of course, it was the magical John Gilchrist run of '04, when the Terps were the sixth seed (of only nine teams) and started with ... Wake Forest. Hmm.
So, what's up with Shaq? In the past two games, Shaquille Cleare has managed all of four minutes; he didn't play at all in the final three halves. Mark Turgeon has played down both of those games, but it's tough not to raise an eyebrow at the situation. Shaq played 16 minutes in the first encounter between these two, and 10 in the second, so unless the matchups have changed since two weeks ago he should get back to regular playing time. It'll be something to watch, certainly.
Season sweep. Maryland only beat two teams in the conference both times they met - Virginia Tech, and Wake. That they meet the Deacs in the tourney instead of, say, Boston College or even maybe Clemson, is a relief. It also gives them a chance to take three games in the same season against the same opponent since doing it to Georgia Tech in 05-06. Yeah, Wake is terrible this year, but I'd still gladly take that.
The Opponent (An Overview)
Maryland's starting to hit a wall, but Wake Forest isn't doing too much better. They've lost three of their last four, including one to the Terps, but unlike Maryland they do come in with a bit of momentum: they ended the regular season with a 90-79 win over Virginia Tech at home, which helped them avoid the basement in the conference. But that win came against a truly unimpressive Tech team, and aside from their upset of Miami in late February, Wake Forest has largely looked like the same Wake Forest we've seen all year.
The most notable thing about the Deacs is still their pace: they run as much as anyone in the conference, with an even higher tempo in conference play than North Carolina. Given Maryland's own propensity to get out on the break, both of these games during the regular season had possessions in the 70s, and I'd expect the same out of this game. In keeping with their desire to run, they're an intense defensive team that's actually not too bad defending; they rebound their glass decently well and rarely foul, and most importantly they force turnovers - they're fourth in the ACC in defensive TO%, which should scare any Maryland fan with a brain. If there's anything that can beat Maryland, it's a team that likes to pressure the ball, play passing lanes, and be opportunistic. That's how the Deacs beat N.C. State, and it's how they'll come into this game, too. Maryland makes all number and kind of silly mistakes anyway, but if they don't show up mentally and make more than usual, they'll be in for a battle.
The good news is that they still lack much of an interior presence - Devin Thomas isn't shabby, even if he's not as good as Alyssa, but past that there's very little bordering on nothing in the post. Combined with their aggressive man defense, that means they can be had for open looks by good execution - probably explaining the 52% eFG% teams have notched against them in ACC play. They try to take away the three with that extended defense and can be exploited inside the arc; that's the good news for a Maryland team that often can't buy a perimeter shot anyway.
Offensively, things still don't run well as a unit but they do have two dangerous names: Travis McKie and C.J. Harris. Neither are every-game players - they're relied on too much relative to their talent for that - but they can be mighty dangerous when they show up. Harris, especially, is worrisome: he put up 29 points on Virginia Tech on the back of 6-6 shooting from three. Maryland's proven that they have defensive lapses when it comes to guarding the perimeter, so a hot shooter - if that form carries over, as sometimes it does - is another worrisome aspect.
Still, aside from Harris' hot hand, there's not much fancy stuff going on. They love to run and will look to get points that way; in the halfcourt, their primary aim is to attack the basket and either get an easy look inside or get to the stripe. We saw that they're not awful at it the last time these two met, when the refs tightened up the whistle in the second half and the Deacs were in the bonus by the under-16. Another closely called game favors Wake much more than it does Maryland. If the things are called loosely and Maryland doesn't turn it over, it'll make Wake execute in the halfcourt, and that's not their game.
Happily enough, too, Wake is every bit as inexperienced as the Terps. If there's ever a problem for this team, it always seems to trace back to inexperience, and it was possible that they'd be overwhelmed by the occasion of the ACC Tournament - their first, for most of them. Luckily, the Deacs will be dealing with the same problem.
Expected Starting Fives
|Pe`Shon Howard (Jr., 6-3)||Madison Jones (Fr., 6-1)|
|Dez Wells (So., 6-5)||C.J. Harris (Sr., 6-3)|
|Jake Layman (Fr., 6-8)||Arnaud Adala Moto (Fr., 6-6)|
|James Padgett (Sr., 6-8)||Travis McKie (Sr., 6-7|
|Alex Len (So., 7-1)||Devin Thomas (Fr., 6-9)|
I'm expecting Maryland to hold things steady at this point, even if it might not be a bad idea to start shaking things up. After all, this is more or less the team that disappointed so much down the stretch; if there was ever a time to change up the lineup, it's after a few games like the ones Maryland just had. So I wouldn't be shocked to see a change or two - Nick Faust starting, perhaps? - but this is pretty much the group I expect.
For Wake Forest, this is already set; Jeff Bzdelik says he'll stick with the same group that started the last two games, which means Madison Jones in over Codi Miller-McIntyre. Miller-McIntyre will still get minutes, and perhaps a lot of them, but he'll be on the bench at least to start matters. You can see that Maryland has a height advantage across the board; taking advantage of that, especially on the glass, will be critical.
Matchup to Watch
Neither is actually listed above: I'm going Nick Faust vs. Codi Miller-McIntyre. The two might not ever actually match up against each other, but both are their respective team's sixth man and both tend to be barometers for success. Strong first half performances from Faust led Maryland to their first-half leads against both UNC and Virginia; when he disappeared in the final twenty minutes, the Terps fell apart, too. Miller-McIntyre, meanwhile, seems to invariably have good games when Wake wins and poor games when they lose. If he can be a big spark off the bench, things might get interesting.
My big fear is that Maryland is flat. We've seen it before this year already - Boston College and Georgia Tech the prime examples - and three other factors worry me: first, it looks to me like they're running a bit into a mental wall, as many young teams do at the back end of a season; second, they're coming off two games where they fell apart for a spell and let things get away from them, and at some point that can take a mental toll itself; and third, they've reached a point where they're pretty much just playing for pride. There's no doubt in my mind that Maryland's a better team; they beat Wake home and away, and looking at the matchup it's clear that so long as the Terps don't have an absurd number of turnovers, can keep Wake from getting to the line, or can contain C.J. Harris, they shouldn't have too much issue.
But a flat, unfocused team would probably do all of those things. And that's the challenge for Maryland: being there for a full forty minutes. Not starting strong and then getting blitzed in the second half; not coming together in the final minutes for a heroic charge at a big lead. Forty minutes; that's the test. Anything less, and you give Wake Forest a chance.
I don't think they'll get those forty minutes, but I also don't think Wake Forest will get them either. The two teams have sloppy stretches, but Maryland has just enough in them to hold on. Terps 80, Wake Forest 72.