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Previewing Maryland-Radford: Get Ready for the Return of MVPe'

I made a promise to do a full-post preview of all of Maryland's winter break opponents after skipping over Mount St. Mary's and seeing what that got us. (Strangely, didn't do too much good against FIU.)

So here I am, doing research on the 3-10, 320th-ranked-on-KenPom Radford Highlanders, who lost to Kentucky by 48 and possess the fourth-worst eFG% in the entire country. You're welcome.

Of the six tune-up games Maryland has before the start of the ACC schedule, Radford is probably the worst opponent. They struggled through a painful 5-24 campaign last season, though to their credit managed to squeeze out an impressive four-point win over underrated mid-major Delaware to begin the season. That's the good news. The bad news: they haven't beaten a D-I team since, suffering nine straight losses to such competition as Eastern Michigan, Presbyterian, and Marist.

Thing is, you probably knew that, or at least that Radford probably wasn't very good. It's pretty much a guarantee with these types of games. Unfortunately, given Maryland's recent nervy performances against FIU and MSM, I'm not quite sure that will alleviate anyone's concerns. As we've established (and then been reminded of) time and time again this year, Maryland will be in a battle against every team they play.

Looking at the stats, I'm not quite sure where Radford will cause Maryland problems, though I'm sure at this point they'll probably manage some way to do it. They're one of the worst-shooting teams in the country, and aren't far ahead in offensive efficiency. They don't get the free throw line very much, they don't rebound at a very high rate, and they turn the ball over even more than Maryland does. As team, they shoot 27% from beyond the arc, though we've learned that the Terrapins can help teams out in that category.

Okay, but are they better defensively? Eh, slightly. They're between 225 and 300 in their national ranks of defensive efficiency and each of the defensive four factors, so their defense is better more by virtue of not being abjectly terrible at any one part of the game than being a consistently good unit. Because they're not really that.

That said, Maryland can often figure out ways to keep other teams in games, whether through poor perimeter defense or giving the ball away too much. And as is true with any team, if Maryland gives Radford opportunities, they're probably good enough to take them.

Individually, the three names to look out for are Jareal Smith, Johnathan Edwards, and R.J. Price. Smith, a 6-3 sophomore, leads Radford in scoring, though thankfully shoots only 30% from three; he'll hit an open shot as any scorer would, but if Maryland takes care of business on their end he won't go Jimmer on them. Price is a 6-0 freshman who's been pressed into being the starting point guard; he leads the Highlanders in minutes and assists, while throwing in nearly 9 ppg.

Edwards is a more interesting case; a 6-8 senior, he's probably Radford's most important player and emotional leader. He's tops on the team in usage rate and averages 10 and 6 a game. A senior 6-8 big man with a decent skillset is a strange commodity for a middling low-major, and he could end up being the problem-maker for Maryland, especially if Ashton Pankey is off his game.

And if you're looking for "The Guy Who'll Get Hot From Outside on Maryland," which I'm thinking of trademarking, it's probably Brian Darden. He's only a 6-1 freshman, but shoots about 44% from outside. He's the guy who'll Maryland will have to make sure they cover when he's on the floor, given how much outside shooting has hurt them in the past.

But let's be honest here: we all know the real story isn't Radford. It's Pe'Shon Howard.

MVPe' is expected to play for the first time since breaking his foot in late October. (By the way, the turnaround on that was pretty insane.) I doubt he'll start, but I'd be surprised if he didn't see some significant minutes in an effort to work him back into the offense at point guard. His presence is a welcome one for the Terrapins, who have had some well-publicized problems in their half-court offense.

I still doubt Howard will be a cure-all for this team's offensive woes, but he has to help things fairly significantly, even if only by getting Nick Faust off the point and to the 3. Having a steady and calming influence at the point can work wonders, too; even if Pe' isn't Kendall Marshall at the 1, he's a true lead guard, and that's something Maryland doesn't really have right now. Again, I don't think we'll see the full extent of his abilities just yet - with four more games until the start of the ACC stretch, there's no reason to rush things - but how he performs in limited minutes on Friday will undoubtedly be one of the biggest storylines of the game, and perhaps the biggest of all.

Elsewhere, expect to see the same things we've been seeing out of Maryland in these games: points from Terrell Stoglin but a concentrated effort to find other places to get points, and baby steps in improving the other parts of their game, particularly on defense.

I'm wary to make a prediction of any kind, because my head tells me that Maryland has to break out of this "almost lose to mid-majors" funk at some point and Radford is as good a candidate for a blowout as they'll have. But without Howard back yet, and with my record on blowout predictions, I can't in good conscience say they'll roll in this one. I don't think Maryland will blow anyone out anytime soon, but I also don't think they'll ever be in serious danger of losing this one.

(Is that playing it safe enough for everyone?)