Previewing Maryland-Wake Forest: Road Demons

USA TODAY Sports

Can the Terps grab a much-needed win on the road against an inconsistent Wake Forest?

What: The Maryland Terrapins look to cure their road woes with a trip south to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, a team going through many of the same problems the Terps are this year

Where + When: Noon at Joel Coliseum, Winston-Salem, N.C.

Where to Watch: ACC Network*, so check your affiliate listing here. If you're a DC local, it'll be on Fox 5; if you're a Baltimore local, it'll be on WNUV. And if for some godforsaken reason you live in Grand Junction, Co., well, you're in luck, as you're the ACCN's Random Affiliate o' the Day.

I can't wait for the Big Ten Network already.

If you're not so lucky with your random affiliates, you'll be able to catch it on ESPN3 or theACC.com/live, the latter of which isn't subject to internet or geographic limitations.

Lines: Vegas: Maryland -1 KenPom: Maryland by 2

Notes/Storylines

Yeah, it's another road game. If anything's come to symbolize Maryland's up-and-down season, it's their horribly inconsistent showings between road and home games. After all, the Terps are 5-1 in their last six at home, with wins over Duke and N.C. State in that bunch; in their last seven on the road, they're 1-6, with losses to BC and Georgia Tech. Sure, there's some natural variation between home games and road games - the latter of which are about eight points tougher, on average - but that's just a silly difference. It's obvious that there's something about road games this team, this staff, or maybe this entire program just can't handle, at least not yet. It could have to do with their youth; it takes time to get used to going into the visitor locker room on a regular basis, playing in an unfamiliar gym, all that. Whatever it is, it's immensely frustrating - and they'll have to deal with again today.

Slide. In their last four, Maryland's won two (Clemson and Duke) and lost two (Virginia and BC). In fact, the longer the year's gone on, the more and more they've started to look every bit the part of a .500 team in the conference, which is disappointing given the high hopes at the start of the year and the still-relatively-weak stature of the ACC. They're 7-8 right now, but things don't get any easier: there's this game, a chance to grab a momentum-salvaging home win against UNC, and then a trip to playing-out-of-their-skins Virginia. No way will the Terps be favored in the latter two; they're barely favored in this one. You can take a team having a disappointing season, but if the Terps collapse between now and the end of the year, that'd be a tough pill to swallow. Win here, and those worries go away. For the most part. But yet you have to worry about...

Confidence. Maryland isn't traditionally a team you'd worry about with confidence - Gary Williams was always at his best with his back against the wall, and if the Terps have lacked for anything under Mark Turgeon it most certainly hasn't been fight - but you have to be concerned given the general feel around the program at the moment. The upset of Duke seems like a million years ago; Mark Turgeon has sounded exasperated (more than usual) in pressers, and bereft of answers; Shaquille Cleare is quietly calling out his teammates' toughness or effort when asked about rebounding. For a team this young, swagger and natural confidence will start to take a hit, especially because it's starting to look like the tournament will be a step too far this year. Mark Turgeon has some work to do with the team's collective psyche right now.

20 wins? I've been pretty vocal about wins being a particularly useless stat this year - they always are, but that's especially true for Maryland this year when it comes to judging their progress as a program given a) their unusually weak schedule, and b) their large number of close losses. Still, the Terps haven't won 20 in a year since Greivis Vasquez was in College Park, and they'll have a chance to get to it here.

Not mirror images, but close enough. This might be a bit unflattering for Maryland, but they share more with Wake Forest than you'd like. In particular, their youth and inconsistency. The Terps are 10th in the ACC in experience (though that number, if weighted by minutes, would probably be lower); Wake Forest is 11th (though, again, if weighted by minutes, probably a bit higher). As said above, Maryland has a huge disparity between what they do on the road and what they do at home; so, too, does Wake Forest. The Deacs' last five home outings consisted of a thrashing of Miami, a one-point loss to Georgia Tech that easily could've been a win; another thrashing of Florida State; a five-point loss to Duke that also could've easily been a win; and a win over N.C. State. Compare that to what they've done on the road, which is get taken to the woodshed by FSU, lose to BC, and get blown out by UNC and Maryland. But their tendency to step it up at home, combined with Maryland's incompetence on the road, has to worry you.

The Opponent (An Overview)

As just mentioned, Wake Forest is young and inexperienced, a team built of one pretty good senior (C.J. Harris, who dropped 23 on Miami), one really good junior (Travis McKie), and a bunch of relative no-mark freshmen like Devin Thomas and Arnaud Moto. When they get their guys to show up, they can be more dangerous than you'd think; just ask Miami, N.C. State, or even Duke. Harris is especially dangerous, a bit feast-or-famine but able to light up a defense that doesn't keep track of him - something Maryland's struggled with all year. When they play well, they tend to get big showings out of him, McKie, and one of Thomas or fellow freshman Codi Miller-McIntyre.

Offensively, they play primarily inside the arc, with only Harris (and designated shooter Chase Fischer) often launching from deep. The other perimeter playesr - Miller-McIntyre, Madison Jones, McKie, Moto - are mostly slashers, much more comfortable cutting to the basket than spotting up from deep. Then there's Thomas, who has proven a productive freshman and works mostly as a garbageman around the hoop. The lack of shooters hurts Wake when it comes to three-point field goal percentage - 8th in the ACC - and frankly they're not much better inside the arc, checking in at 10th. But all that getting to the rim does pay dividends in another way: getting to the foul line, which is one of the things they do more efficiently than their ACC peers. WF has three players in the top-200 nationally in free throw rate - McKie, Harris, and Thomas - and the first two are more or less automatic from the stripe; Thomas, well, not so much. But nearly a quarter of Wake's points come from the stripe (compare to about 15% for Maryland); if this game is called tightly, it plays into WF's hands drastically.

And they do tend to shoot better at home - in that ten-game stretch I mentioned earlier, they shot 39% on the road and 45% at home; if they can hit 45% or more, and if the refs have a tight whistle, they'll be able to put up some numbers.

An even bigger difference between their home and road performances, though, has been their defense. I have no idea the psychology behind it, but for whatever reason they're markedly better defensively when they're at home, turning from a very middling defensive team on the road or in neutral settings to above average. Honestly, they're probably a bit more efficient defensively than offensively anyway, playing an aggressive man-to-man that forces a lot of turnovers and really limits good looks on the perimeter. Where teams do their damage against Wake is on the inside, given that they essentially play four perimeter players most of the time. Maryland isn't a shooting team to begin with, so Wake's ability to limit looks from outside shouldn't make a big difference; the key will be, as is usual for Maryland, going inside and winning the glass, perhaps with a big performance from Seth Allen, Dez Wells, or Nick Faust taking the ball to the tin with regularity.

One thing's for sure, though: points will be scored. Or, at the very least, the tempo will be quick. Bzdelik runs, and Mark Turgeon has been running faster himself these days, especially with his use of the press to jumpstart his team.

Expected Starting Fives

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

For Maryland, heck if I know. Does Mark Turgeon go small to counter Wake Forest's more diminutive lineup? Does he go bigger? Does Faust start at point guard after a clunker at Georgia Tech? Is he unhappy with the effort and shakes things up to send a message? I have absolutely no idea. Pick some names out of a hat.

Wake Forest is more settled. Miller-McIntyre will run point, with Madison Jones his primary deputy, a sixth man who'll get significant minutes. Maryland will have a size advantage across the board, but that increasingly seems to mean little.

Matchup to Watch

Tough to look anywhere other than Dez Wells vs. C.J. Harris - especially because, given how unsettled Maryland is, who knows what the other matchups look like. You'd expect, though, Wells, who is generally regarded as the Terps' premier perimeter defender, to match up with Harris, should Maryland go with their regular look. If they try to go smaller, he might spend time on Travis McKie, but for now let's assume Harris is the one. He might not return the favor by checking Wells on the other end, but if Wake is going to pull the upset, he'll almost certainly be the architect. Maryland can't afford to lose him the way they did Brandon Reed on Wednesday, and Wells might need to provide some offense of his own give the Terps' road struggles. What I wouldn't give for an old-fashioned ACC perimeter duel.

Prediction

I seem to get 'em all wrong these days anyway, so I'll go with my gut here (and probably be wrong): I have to admit I'm starting to worry a bit about this game. Not because Wake Forest is a juggernaut, but because Maryland is struggling intensely away from the Comcast Center while Wake Forest is doing their best work at home. That's a dangerous combination, especially because these teams aren't as far apart as their record might have you believe. Vegas and KenPom think it's virtually a toss-up, but they might be underestimating just how deep a toll a road game takes on Maryland. Call me a Debbie Yowner, but I wouldn't be surprised with a Wake Forest win along the lines of 74-66 or so.

(Now watch Maryland go win by 25.)

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