After watching the past few games, one might think the biggest advantage Maryland might have against Georgia Tech might have nothing to do with either team's strengths or weaknesses. Rather, the thing working most in Maryland's favor on Saturday might just be when and where the game is played.
Maryland looked like world-beaters against UNC and Virginia at home. Then they looked downright awful at Duke and tired in Raleigh against N.C. State on just one day's rest. Now they're back to College Park, and back to a semi-normal schedule with a full two days of rest before taking on the Yellow Jackets.
Unfortunately, despite what we've seen recently, where the game is played isn't the biggest indicator of team success, though it has its role. The teams do, believe it or not, play a factor. So let's take a look at
Florida State's Georgia Tech's.
Yes, the Yellow Jackets are strikingly similar to the Seminoles - they have a lot of height and length, but their guard play simply hasn't come around yet. Of course, that's a good sign for Maryland, who has won twice against FSU.
First, the good news: Iman Shumpert and Mfon Udofia - both of whom make the ACC All-Name Team - have rotated playing point guard, with the heavier load falling on Shumpert. Neither have done particularly well, and have looked very poor recently. Shumpert turns it over 3 times on average, and Udofia only nets 2 assists a game. And as Florida State, Clemson, and Miami have all illustrated, it's just tough (nigh impossible) to win without good guard play.
That average guard play has led to a relatively average offense and some major problems holding onto the ball. They're one of the worst in the ACC - and, actually, the country - in turnovers.
Also, despite - perhaps due to - GT's prodigious height, they're downright bad at FTs - against UNC they hit just half of their free throws, and their two best big men combined for a pathetic 2-11 from the stripe. Foul away.
Now, the bad news: Georgia Tech has some ridiculously skilled big men in Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal, has a solid defense, and has found some inspired guard play off the bench from Moe Miller and Glenn Rice, Jr.
Let's start off with Miller, whom up till a few games ago was averaging just over 14 minutes per game. In the past two games, the point guard has seen a major PT increase, averaging nearly 23 minutes a game, and that has translated into success for the Jackets. Against Wake Forest off the bench, he had 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. Against UNC, 11 points and 3 assists.
Meanwhile, Udofia and Shumpert have combined - repeat, combined - for 3 points the past two games. Miller's play has impressed, and he's shown an ability to get the ball to the aforementioned big men, something Udofia and Shumpert sometimes struggled with.
Don't be surprised if Miller moves into the starting lineup against Maryland, or at the very least grabs major minutes. Joining him as a recent starting lineup addition would be Glenn Rice, Jr., who saw his first start a few days ago against UNC. Like Miller, he's been seeing an increase in playing time recently at the 2 guard spot, getting 21 and 27 minutes, respectively, in the past two games. He could sit down after a relatively average performance against UNC in those 27 minutes (just 5 points), but I'd be surprised if it happened.
Despite those two's contributions, Maryland will still be better on the perimeter, and by a good amount. Miller and Rice have played well, but have ultimately low ceilings compared to Udofia and Shumpert. The latter two have been disappointing recently, but they could cause problems if they were at 100%. Miller and Rice won't hurt, but they probably won't do a ton to help.
On to those big men. Lawal (14, 9.5) is an all-ACC contender, and Favors (11, 8) is the surefire pick for ACC Freshman of the Year. Both are extremely long and extremely athletic, and their post moves are better than you might expect. I think (hope) Jordan Williams would match up with Favors if only because it would make for a marquee matchup between the two best rookies in the ACC, but any of Landon Milbourne, Dino Gregory, or James Padgett would have a tough time on Lawal. That's where that secondary post presence that Maryland currently lacks still hurts.
To make matters worse, both can - and do - run the floor well, and involve themselves in the transition game. I don't expect Jordan Williams to get beaten down the floor too much (regardless of looks, dude can book it) but he might start to tire later in the game, and those easy points he gets when he beats his man down the floor might not be available.
Unfortunately, it's not as though those are the only bigs on the team - Zachery Peacock is a 6-8 senior who averages nearly 10 points a game, though at least he hangs out on the perimeter more and is not as big as a threat on the boards.
Which segues nicely into my next point: those twin towers can absolutely clean the glass. They are vacuums on both sides of the floor, and Georgia Tech is, unsurprisingly, one of the better rebounding teams in the country. Maryland will have their hands full on the boards, and that's an area that has really hurt them in the past.
Another major area those two bigs help with is on defense, where they provide a Garnett-like backup presence. That allows the guards to play their man a little bit more tightly than usual, and is good enough for the 8th best two-point FG% in the country. It's also enough to be the 26th best team at rejecting shots. Then again, Maryland's offense has been lights out at home all year.
Perhaps the saving grace is that their shooters are, while okay, nothing special from deep. Yes, some of them can knock it down - Rice, namely, hit 4-5 from 3 against Wake Forest - but they are far from being stacked. Udofia, Shumpert, and Miller, in particular, and are all streaky from deep. Doubling down on a big is always a risky strategy, but as long as Rice or D'Andre Bell aren't the ones being left alone, it probably won't kill them.
Yes, this team is unbelievably similar to Florida State (their KenPom profiles are basically mirror images). Their guard play is probably a little worse, but their bigs are probably a little better. This'll be an interesting one - Maryland has a clear advantage in the perimeter, but if the big two, so to speak, can come out at their best, it'll be a fight.
The way Maryland has played at home, though, leads one to believe Maryland will find a way to win. Georgia Tech will present a challenge, but Maryland has rose to meet and surpass every challenge on their home court so far this year, and I can only hope it'll be the same on Saturday.