Villanova's Maryland's must-win game this year, this year's version of Michigan State. Ranked at #3 in the nation, it's easy to be intimated by the Wildcats. But really, should the Terps be?
This is a very good team, I'm not doubting that. But remember that, before that Final Four run last year, they were down by 11 to American in the second half in the first round. This year has seen some ups and downs, too: they only beat George Mason - who would go on to lose to Tulane and George Washington (although they beat Indiana by 3) - by one, and had an unconvincing victory over Dayton.
They're good, but not they're untouchable. Believe it or not, Maryland's actually ranked higher in the Pomeroy rankings; Villanova's at 51. Maryland's also higher in both offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency rankings. It's too early for those types of rankings to be all that accurate, but it's encouraging nonetheless.
The matchup of the day will be Greivis Vasquez-Scottie Reynolds, a battle royale between two premier senior PGs. Reynolds is leading Nova in minutes and points, and its no secret who the leader of the Terps is. Reynolds is a bit of a chucker, but he's quick, and quick guards not named Ty Lawson usually give Vasquez fits. If the Vasquez of old (that is, last year) shows up, it'll be highly entertaining. If the Vasquez of this season shows up, Nova will probably have an advantage in the PG category.
One big plus for the Terps against Nova is that Villanova lacks a dominating inside game, meaning the freshman bigs shouldn't be overwhelmed entirely. They probably faced one of the best post players they're going to play already in Yancy Gates; Villanova's premier post player, Antonio Pena, shouldn't provide a greater challenge. In the absence of Mouphtaou Yarou, Maryland will go up against Maurice Sutton, and that's actually a favorable matchup.
Sutton is a freshman three star center that some scouts didn't even think was as good as Jordan Williams; it's uncommon for Maryland to have an advantage in the post, but that might be the case here. When he's not on the floor, it'll likely be a four guard set for the 'Cats, and that's pretty good for Maryland, who runs the same set.
That's not to say they don't rebound well - they're sixth in the country, actually - but it's an effort and technique game for them moreso than size, so Maryland won't be at an immediate disadvantage. Pena's one of the best rebounders in the nation, but they're thin outside of him.
They're a little difficult to get a read on. Defensively is where they've made their living, but it's been against poor teams that they've been able to outclass athletically. They're definitely above-average on that side of the floor, but perhaps not they're not quite as dominant as they showed against, say, Drexel.
They give up a lot of trips to the FT line, so Maryland will need to take better advantage of their opportunities from the stripe than they have so far this year (Jordan Williams, I'm looking at you). At the same time, they get to the line a lot, thanks in large part to the aggressiveness of Reynolds; not giving him free points should be a key point. I wouldn't mind seeing Sean Mosley and Adrian Bowie match up with him almost exclusively defensively. He can ruin a team when he gets in the lane.
I haven't seen much of Villanova except for the second half against George Mason, which probably wasn't the real Wildcats. I'm also yet to see a real encouraging, definitive scouting report on them - maybe they turn it on, but I think they're overrated at #3 right now. It'll still be an uphill battle for Maryland, but, after looking around at them, I feel much better about this matchup.
Actually, I'm yet to find one real reason to be afraid of Villanova other than the fact that they went to the Final Four last year, and even that they did with Reggie Redding, Shane Clark, and Dante Cunningham, none of whom they have this year (Redding's out til mid-December).
That said, Maryland will probably lose by 20. But I'm encouraged right now.