Hey, Maryland's realistic at-large chances may be toast now, but that (unfortunately) doesn't mean the season is over. The Terrapins still have two regular-season games left, the first of which is tomorrow's face-off with the Miami Hurricanes in South Beach. And yes, we can now finally stop saying "must-win", at least until the conference tournament starts up.
Miami's flown under the radar pretty heavily all year. They've had a few bad losses out of conference - like Memphis, Rutgers, and UCF - and started conference play with a terrible 1-6 record. The thing is, those overshadow victories over Ole Miss and West Virginia out of conference, and the early conference record itself is misleading: of the six early losses, four were against the conference's top four teams (Duke, UNC, VT, and FSU), and only one - the Duke game - was lost by more than 10 points.
Things haven't changed much lately. They lost to Duke by 10 in Coral Gables, to Clemson by 4 at home, and to FSU by six in Tallahassee. They were able to beat BC last Wednesday, but they've come up just short of making a serious ACC and NCAA tournament run.
In other words, they're pretty much a slightly-worse version of Maryland: able to hang, but not always able to win. They've "rebounded" to get to 5-9 in the ACC on the year, which is hardly good considering where they could've (and should've) been, but don't overlook them on that: they're a dangerous team with two high-level guards and a legitimate big man. They haven't rolled over for anyone in ACC play so far, and they definitely won't do it against Maryland.
In terms of individual talent, Miami has an offensive big three consisting of junior guard Malcolm Grant, sophomore guard Durand Scott, and sophomore center Reggie Johnson. Both Grant and Scott are dangerous scorers: Grant averages 15.1 ppg and has topped 18 points nine times this year; Scott averages 13.2 ppg and has topped 18 eight times. Scott can shoot adequately, but he's not a marksman, preferring instead to drive the ball. It's Grant who has the potential to destroy teams from the outside: he's shooting 44% on 177 attempted threes. For comparison's sake, he's taken about half of the threes Maryland as a team has, and he's shot 10% better while doing it. He's extraordinarily dangerous from deep.
Johnson is a poor man's Jordan Williams: he's of a similar size (6-10, 300) and experience level (also a sophomore), and he's actually put up respectable (if not outstanding) stats: he's averaging about 12 points and 9 rebounds a game. He's far from consistent and is generally more solid than spectacular - it's rare that he's shown any type of ability to take over a game, like Williams has - but he could challenge Williams for the title of the conference's best rebounder. When fed properly, he can put up points in bunches. There's going to be a lot of weight in the paint tomorrow night, and it figures to be an interesting battle.
Adrian Thomas, a 6-7 senior who's the Canes' de facto PF, and Garrius Adams, a 6-6 sophomore, round out the starting lineup. Thomas is a sixth-year senior and he's a pretty dangerous three-point threat, shooting about 39% from 3 (it's been higher in the past) on nearly 200 attempts. Adams averages about 8 points a game, and does so quietly.
Miami's an interesting team to match up against. They obviously have scoring in droves between Grant, Scott, and Johnson, and they don't rely on any one way to score: Grant is an outside threat, Scott is a penetrator, and Johnson is a post man. This makes it tough to gameplan against them, particularly with guys like Thomas - a dead-eye shooter - and Adams - who's quiet but effective - also in the lineup. The Canes have some real scoring firepower, and it'll be interesting to see how Maryland attacks them.
One very obvious way: use pressure to force turnovers. You can't score if you give the ball away, of course, and that's probably Miami's biggest weakness. They're 9th in the conference in TO% and dead last in A/FGM, mostly due to the fact that they lack a traditional point guard. Grant and Scott are both scorers before anything else, and their combined A/TO ratio is a pretty sad 1.22 (Terrell Stoglin and Pe'Shon Howard, by comparison, have a 1.72 ratio). Two of the first three off the bench (the Canes normally go eight-deep) are wings, and the third is a post player.
As such, they don't exactly have a captain at the point, leading to increased turnovers and occasionally less ball movement. I wouldn't mind seeing a bit of the press - though I'm skeptical about that given their ability to hit threes - and expect to see a decent amount of turnovers. They should come even without pressure, to be honest, so turning up the pressure is a bit of a gamble. Either way, Maryland's ability to force TOs - and thereby stymie Miami's scoring - will play a big role in the game.
Keep in mind Miami's outside shooting ability. It's almost exclusively used by Grant and Thomas, but they use it a lot: the two have combined to take nearly as many threes as Maryland's entire team. Guess what? They're a lot better at it, too. That's why the amount of points Miami gets from 3-pointer is the third-highest in the ACC. Traditional man-to-man is probably the only way to go, though maybe we'll see a little 1-3-1/3-2.
On the other side of the floor, they don't do a lot particularly well. They're 9th in the conference in defensive efficiency in ACC play and 11th in 3pt% (hopefully that means a few more makes from deep this time). They're especially poor at forcing TOs (291st in the country), which leads to a pretty sizable possession deficit when paired with their own turnover proclivity. I don't know enough to be sure one way or the other, but it appears more like an interest/effort/technique thing on defense than a talent thing; there's some pretty solid athleticism there, and though they're a little on the short side, they should probably be higher than where they are. Again, I don't know for sure and maybe I'm completely off, just thinking out loud.
In all honesty, this is a game Maryland probably should win. Miami's pretty poor defensively and while they're intriguing offensively, they also lack a point guard and are susceptible to pressure and turnovers. If Maryland can take care of business and hold onto the ball, they should have a significant possessions advantage, enough to make up for Miami's scoring prowess.
But the Canes haven't been blown out in ACC play all year, and I don't expect them to start now. What's more, their continuous close losses worry me a little, too: they were capable of beating teams like FSU, VT, and even UNC, but came up just short. If they can bring everything together for one game, there's no reason they shouldn't/couldn't beat a team like Maryland, let alone an even better one.
And yeah, like I said, this sounds a lot like Maryland. If that's true, maybe we're lucky, in a weird way: the Terrapins never got over the hump, so maybe the Canes never will, either. Bit of sad irony to end the year.