Maryland-Pittsburgh preview, part 2 - Terps try to regroup at home against Panthers

Brett Carlsen

When Maryland was entering their last matchup against Pitt, they were sitting at 2-0 in ACC play, Seth Allen's return seemed to have sparked the team, and there was some optimism surrounding the team. Then Maryland lost by 20 to the Panthers. Almost three weeks later, the Terps have gone from undefeated in the conference to 3-3, losing to not only Pitt, but Florida State and N.C. State as well.

Pitt on the other hand has gone 3-1 since beating Maryland back on January 6th. Their only loss was a five point defeat on the road to #2 Syracuse. The Panthers are now the 20th ranked team nationally as they've continued to improve. They'll arrive in College Park with a 17-2 record and in second place in the conference at 5-1.

Lamar Patterson (19 pts), Durand Johnson (17 pts) and Talib Zanna (13 pts) all finished in double figures the last time out. Seth Allen had 18 for Maryland and Evan Smotrycz was the only other Terp in double figures with 14. You might remember Durand going loco against Maryland last time, especially to close out the game. Well, he won't be playing on Saturday after recently suffering an ACL injury.

Since we profiled Pitt just a few weeks ago, we'll take a look at what FlaTerp had to say about them when he wrote our last preview:

Players to watch

Lamar Patterson, senior, 6'5"

Patterson is a player you just have to like. He's been at Pitt forever, it seems. He's always been a rotation guy and a do-everything role player. And finally, after paying his dues and proving his mettle, Patterson is Pitt's star player and biggest weapon. He's leading the Panthers in minutes (30.6), scoring (17.7), assists (4.6) and 3-pointers (39 at a solid 44.3%), while also contributing a solid 4.6 rebounds per game and hitting 52 percent from the field and 78 percent from the line. Patterson is a just a good, smart, experienced all-around player who will lead the Panthers however far they go this year. The good news is that Patterson is the type of player Maryland matches up OK with, as anyone from Layman, Wells, Faust or Allen could take turns checking him.

Talib Zanna, senior, 6'9"


There's a stomach-punch element to this Pitt team that I'll begin to address right here. Zanna is one of three key players (and four total on the roster) that Pitt pulled out of our own back yard. Think Maryland would like to have a 6-9 senior center averaging 13.4 points and eight boards? Yeah, me too. And the kid went to Bishop McNamara. When he committed to Pitt back in 2008, Maryland wasn't even on his list. Beyond that I don't know what happened with his recruitment. Anyway, Zanna plays heavy, heavy minutes and is the best shot blocker on a team that doesn't really block shots. Though his rebounding average is solid, he's also something less than consistent as he had huge interior games against Lehigh (14 boards) and Youngstown (15) but then also had five games in which he pulled down five or less boards. He's not the type of big man we can't manage. In fact, I'd like to think that Shaq should be able to muscle around with him pretty well.

Cameron Wright, junior, 6'4"

Wright is a pure off-guard and key defender, likely to spend his evening in front of Dez Wells and Seth Allen. This is a great athlete and glue guy who does all the little things well. He comes about his 10.8 PPG scoring average honestly, reaching double digits in nine of Pitt's 14 games with a season high of 20 vs. Duquesne. If Maryland isn't on its game defensively, it'll be Wright making the sneaky weakside plays, stealing offensive rebounds and just generally being an all-around nuisance. By the way, he's the Panthers' runaway leader in steals with 2.3 per game, ranking him in the top 30 nationally.

James Robinson, sophomore, 6'3"

I know, I'm being borderline mean at this point, but we all remember Robinson, a 4-star DeMatha point guard who eliminated Maryland when he announced a top five of Pitt, Notre Dame, Miami, Virginia and UCLA. Now he's Pitt's second-year starter averaging about eight points and four assists with a very nice turnover average of 0.8 per game. I love Robinson and wish he was wearing red in this game. Water under the bridge.

Jamel Artis, freshman, 6'7"

Now I'm just antagonizing you. Artis isn't even that key of a player, but the young power forward (from, um, BALTIMORE) is getting 15.5 minutes per game and averaging five points and three rebounds. Artis actually never got the Maryland offer he seemed to indicate he wanted in old quotes, but then Pitt was easily his best option (Miami, Rutgers, USF, LaSalle) and he jumped at it.

Strengths

This is a hot-button issue in some corners of this site, but I would argue a strength is that their starting guards, Robinson and Wright, have clear, defined position-based responsibilities. Pitt is a terrific passing team and that boils down to good coaching and good, unselfish guard play.

Weaknesses

Like Maryland, Pitt hasn't found its identity as an interior team. The Panthers grab 37.4 rebounds per game (82nd in the nation) and though Zanna will be by far the headliner big man in a Pitt-Maryland matchup, he doesn't have much company inside and Maryland has a decided advantage in team height when you factor in not just the team's three-headed center, but also the size Layman and Smo bring to the table from the wings. Can the Terps exploit that? Great question.

Prediction

Kenpom - predicts a 73-65 Pitt win and gives Maryland just a 22% chance of pulling out the victory. They also rank Pitt as the #3 team nationally.

At this point in the season, it's hard to pick Maryland to win a game with any confidence. Even in scenarios where you'd expect them to pull out a win, like their last game against N.C. State, they've been unable to come up with a victory. So despite Pitt missing a player who accounted for 17 points in their earlier matchup, that doesn't mean the scales become tipped to the Terps. Against an experienced team like Pitt, this seems to be a game that the Panthers, not Terrapins, will win. Pitt 78, Maryland 65.

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