Previewing Maryland-Iowa: New York State of Mind, Pt. II

USA TODAY Sports

Maryland's second trip to the Big Apple brings decidedly higher stakes than the first: a berth in the NIT Championship game. We preview their showdown with future Big Ten foe Iowa, a team that shares many similarities to the Terps themselves.

What: The Maryland Terrapins make their second trip to the Big Apple, this time to face the Iowa Hawkeyes in the NIT semi-finals

Where + When: 9:00 (approx.) tipoff at Madison Square Garden, New York City

Where to Watch: ESPN

Lines: Vegas: Iowa -3 KenPom: Iowa by 4

Notes / Storylines

Hot streaks. Any and every team that makes it four games into a single elimination tournament is playing great basketball, but that's even truer for these two teams than it is for most. Iowa, partially by virtue of a front-loaded schedule, has won 10 of its last 13, with two of those coming by respectable margins to Indiana and Michigan State. Maryland, of course, has won 5 of 6, finally looking like the team everyone expected them to be. Some teams back into postseason tournaments, but both teams here are unquestionably playing their best basketball of the season, a process that started even before the NIT started.

Preview. It's no "Virginia revenge game" storyline, but a B1G preview is a fairly compelling talking point. We've already had a fairly ... lively, let's say, discussion in the comments, as we get to know our new Midwestern conference-mates. And maybe it's just me, but I'm intrigued to see what the upper-middle of the B1G is going to look like over the next few years, as Iowa under Fran McCaffery certainly seems like a tournament program.

Homecoming. It's a fitting tribute that James Padgett will get to end his Maryland career in his hometown in New York, playing in the city's venerated cathedral of basketball. But the heart-warming aspect raises the less heart-warming question: is Padge actually going to see the floor? He logged 22 minutes against Kentucky in his first game in the Big Apple, but has seen only 11 minutes of action in the last six games, sitting out of three entirely. The apparent benching seems to be simply a product of a shortened rotation and a greater emphasis on guard play, which has pushed Padgett to being the last man on the bench and given him few sensible chances to see action. Iowa's a bigger team, though, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him get at least a few minutes as Mark Turgeon rotates his bigs more.

Injuries. Odd: both teams have injuries to freshmen guards who have grown into being crucial pieces. Seth Allen is sans cast but not healthy enough to risk, which means Pe'Shon Howard will be forced into logging another 35-minute type of game. On the other side, Iowa's Mike Gesell has been dealing with a foot injury since mid-February, and has been in and out of the lineup ever since. He'll play through the pain if it's manageable, but had only 8 minutes against Virginia and sat out the entire second half.

The Opponent (An Overview)

Iowa's not quite a mirror image of Maryland, but they're not far off, either: the Hawkeyes are a big team with a big rotation, struggle offensively, feature a go-to swingman who's been inconsistent but is playing lights out of late, and play at a fairly quick tempo. Sound familiar? There are some key differences, of course, but unlike most teams the Terps have seen of late this is one that won't try to outfox them but will instead look to beat them at their own game.

Adam Woodbury, at 7-1, is a physical match for Alex Len at center, but Iowa is a big team 1-through-5. The rest of the lineup goes 6-5, 6-6, 6-7, and 6-8, which makes them a match for almost any team in the country as far as height goes. Now, it's notable that there's no true secondary post and that Gesell, 6-1, sees a lot of time at point guard when healthy, so they're no, say, Florida State. Regardless, they won't be fazed or overpowered by Maryland's own length. Pace-wise, they don't play at a frantic pace (and have in fact slowed in Big Ten play), but their average of 67 possessions a game matches Maryland, and they're in the top-100 nationally in KenPom's adjusted tempo. With two teams that like to push the pace, this one has a chance to reach 70 possessions - a fact which might favor Maryland, which is going to be more athletic than almost any opposition in the country.

Iowa really makes their living on defense, where they're perhaps even more efficient than the Alabama defense that just gave the Terps fit in Tuscaloosa. They're 15th in the country in eFG% despite playing against some of the most efficient offenses in the country in the Big Ten, due in large part to their defensive discipline and that aforementioned formidable length. Their man look isn't very aggressive and doesn't normally force a bunch of turnovers - a relief for any seasoned Maryland fan - but they rebound well and lock down the halfcourt, especially limting looks from deep. To score in the halfcourt, you get the feeling the Terps will either need Good Olexiy to show up and win down low or have Dez Wells be dominant.

Of course, the Hawkeyes do struggle on the other end. (This team is in the NIT, after all; they have their share of weaknesses.) For as well as they defend, they're almost as bad when it comes to shooting it themselves, at 10th in the Big Ten in eFG% and dead-last from three. They've really turned it of late and have poured in a few inexplicably efficient shooting performances, including 49% from the field against Virginia. But that may or may not be sustainable. If it isn't, they'll be back to their old ways offensively, which is to say inconsistent and struggling to put up points. If that's the case, their prime outlet, like most big teams, is going to be the free throw line: they're 14th nationally in percentage points from free throws, and Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White are particularly adept at drawing fouls and getting to the stripe. Maryland can match them for length and athleticism, but will need to stay disciplined. They also shoot 73% from the line, one of the better marks in the country.

Individually, Marble is the big name to know, as he's put up 25 a game in the NIT and plays the Dez Wells role for Iowa - only from point guard, now that Gesell is out. The Hawkeyes tend to go as Marble goes and don't have too many other primary options, but there are some secondary weapons that can cause problems, chiefly White. Not unlike Jake Layman, he's a long 3 playing as a face-up 4, lacking some bulk but rebounding well and coming in second in the team in scoring. He doesn't shoot as well from deep as you'd expect him to and instead gets points from being canny, so he could provide a matchup problem (one that Evan Smotrycz would fix next year).

Expected Starting Fives

Maryland Iowa
Pe`Shon Howard (Jr., 6-3) Roy Devyn Marble (Jr., 6-6)
Nick Faust (So., 6-6) Eric May (Sr., 6-5)
Dez Wells (So., 6-5) Melsahn Basabe (Jr., 6-7)
Jake Layman (Fr., 6-8) Aaron White (So., 6-8)
Alex Len (So., 7-1) Adam Woodbury (Fr., 7-1)

This has been Iowa's starting lineup for the past few games, so I wouldn't expect any changes there. Maryland, though, has a choice to make: Jake Layman at the 4, or Charles Mitchell? Sunshine had a breakout game against Alabama and is most certainly the hot hand, although Iowa does play a bit larger than most teams. They lack a true secondary post, though; Basabe is an undersized power forward and Aaron White is a stretch 4 not unlike Layman himself. My guess is that Mark Turgeon will dance with the lineup that brought him, and that's a small, dynamic, athletic five with Layman functioning essentially as a stretch four.

There will, however, have to be some questions over matchups. Len should have an advantage over Woodbury so long as the Hawkeyes don't double. But other than that there are no obvious counters; Iowa doesn't play with two true posts, but they have a big lineup 1-5. How Turgeon matches up, especially with Pe' giving up at least a few inches to any player on the floor, will be interesting.

Matchup to Watch

While Len-Woodbury will be an interesting one-on-one battle, both teams have go-to players who'll probably end up guarding each other at least a few possessions. Yes, like most games for these two teams, they'll go as far as their stars carry them, and that means it's worth keeping an eye on Dez Wells vs. Roy Devyn Marble. Marble runs point for the Hawkeyes when Mike Gesell is on the bench, and it's on his shoulders that they've made this NIT run. Meanwhile, when Wells is firing, Maryland's offense is increasingly efficient, even in the halfcourt. By virtue of Maryland's depth and various looks they've given this year, they've proven they can win games when Dez doesn't show up, so long as Alex Len or Nick Faust does. But if Wells can outplay Marble, not an easy task for a guy who's averaging 25.3 a game in the NIT, it's tough for me to see Maryland dropping this one.

Prediction

I'd wager that Maryland's probably a better team than Iowa in terms of raw talent, but that's been true of most teams the Terps have played this year. Iowa, I have little doubt, is more well-drilled, more experienced, and right now I'd say probably playing slightly better basketball - for all the Terps' extra athleticism and talent, I doubt they'd be able to do what Iowa just did and go trample Virginia in Charlottesville.

Which is probably why, the more I think about it, the more sense it seems to make to think Iowa will pull this one out. Maryland's playing great but the Hawkeyes seem slightly more of a finished product at the moment, and they're rightfully favored. And yet...I keep getting a nagging little feeling that Maryland is simply made for postseason basketball. Single elimination tournaments tend to favor length, athleticism, depth, star players, and the ability to mix and match looks, and that's exactly what Maryland has. The pressure seems to loosen them up, strangely, and they have the advantage of having already played in a game similar to this one against Kentucky to open the year, an experience that won't have gone amiss.

If Iowa can shoot anywhere near the 56% eFG% they had against Virginia, this one's already decided. But my hunch is that was more of a one-off than a symbol of a structural improvement, and if that's the case Maryland's three premier scorers (Len, Faust, and Wells) and newfound ability to control the tempo of a game might be too much for the Hawkeyes. I wouldn't expect this game's margin to be any greater than two possessions either way, but even though my head says Iowa is probably the more sensible pick, I have a gut feeling Maryland pulls it out late. 68-65.

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