Only once in the past four years has Maryland escaped all of its non-conference guarantee games without a loss. After dropping games to American, Ohio, William & Mary, and Morgan State in past years, it's sort of gotten to the point where I'm expecting the Terrapins to lose one of these.
But so far, they haven't. They've gotten close, but they were able to escape some scary games before hitting their stride and blowing a few teams out. Now they're only one game away from escaping all of their tune-ups undefeated and entering ACC play 10-3 and riding a seven-game win streak. Sounds good, right? And only Cornell stands in their way. (For the lazy folks: the game is tomorrow, the 3rd, at 8:00. TV is ESPN3.)
You'll probably remember the Big Red as a pretty dangerous team from their Sweet Sixteen run back in 2010, when they were the best three-point shooting team in the country. This year's iteration is drastically different from that one, but they're still probably the most dangerous and talented of all of Maryland's tune-up opponents.
The pure record probably doesn't quite do them justice. Cornell is only 4-8 and are in the midst of a four-game losing streak. Those four losses have come by an average of only 6 points a game, all four came on the road, and came against pretty decent teams (Illinois, Penn State, Stony Brook, Bucknell). There's no shame in losing to the first two teams, especially on the road; the last two are probably a bit more worrisome to Bill Courtney and should make Maryland the favorite pretty easily.
As I mentioned above, this year's Cornell is really different than the stereotype you might have in your head. They don't shoot the ball nearly as well, for one; their effective field goal percentage is only 48.7%, which is middle of the road nationally and actually worse than Maryland's. They're not bad from deep - they're 34.7% as a team and have an elite sniper in Drew Ferry - but they're far from the lights-out group that made that run a few years ago.
Actually, this year's Cornell prides itself more on defense than anything else. They're a zone team from what I can tell - at least that's what nearly knocked off Illinois in Champaign - though they also utilize some trapping aspects and a bit of man-to-man occasionally. No matter what defense they utilize, they're pretty good at it: their defensive eFG% is very good and in fact they're 29th in the country in defensive 3pt%. I rarely bet against Terrell Stoglin, but if I had to hazard a guess I'd say he doesn't get another six threes in tomorrow's contest. Then again, Stoglin has flashed an ability to score from anywhere on the court, so I wouldn't bet against him getting his points some way or another. Cut off the three with an aggressive zone, and he'll find a way to attack the zone and get inside it. I'm guessing, at least.
Unfortunately, they're also very good at forcing turnovers (top 100 nationally good) and much better than, say, Samford. Maryland turned the ball over 17 times against the Bulldogs; how many times will they give it away against the Big Red? With any luck, Terrell Stoglin will get his control back and Alex Len will have settled in; otherwise, things could get messy.
One final note: you probably think Cornell is a slow-it-down, grind-it-out team, right? That's what they were in 2010 and that's what most mid-majors, particularly pasty defense-and-shootings ones, do. But not Cornell. They're 43rd in the country in raw possessions per game, and 70th in KenPom's adjusted tempo rankings. They will run. Maryland, of course, will also run. That could get very interesting.
Individually, the big name to watch out for, especially for a team like Maryland, is the guy I mentioned above, Drew Ferry. The 6-4 senior leads Cornell in scoring (14 ppg) and is a flat-out sniper. He's taken 105 three-point attempts, which is 18th in the country (and 16 of the players above him have played in more games) and is shooting nearly 46% from deep, good for 42nd in the country. I'm sure you all know that Maryland has occasional struggles with a sniper getting hot from deep; if Ferry gets hot, he'll shoot the lights out. I'm guessing Sean Mosley will match up with him to start, and he'll have to be very good tomorrow.
Chris Wroblewski, a 6-0 senior point guard, is the other really big contributor. In fact, he's probably the most important player on the team; he's second in points per game at 8.8 and, like most point guards, really makes the offense tick. He's 32nd nationally in assists per game (5.8) and is averaging fewer than two giveaways per game, which is pretty impressive given how much he handles the ball. Much has been made about Terrell Stoglin not defending - I mean, he admitted that he did play defense - and as such I'd assume that Pe'Shon Howard would handle Wroblewski, but Stoglin will probably switch onto him when Pe' has to sit. It'll be interesting to watch that.
The good news for Maryland: the Big Red really lack height. They're one of the smallest teams in the country, with only two players taller than 6-7: Eitan Chemerinski, a 6-8 junior (he's from Potomac, if the name sounds familiar), and Josh Figini, a 6-9 junior who starts at the 5. They average only 34 minutes between the both of them and are hardly particularly impactful players as things normally go. With Alex Len on the floor, though, I imagine at least one of them will be on the floor at all times; otherwise it'll fall to 6-7 Shonn Miller to guard the 7-1 Ukrainian. (Yes, I just smiled at the thought.) Len should be getting the ball and getting it a lot.
Cornell's struggles against Bucknell and Stony Brook probably look pretty bad, and it's nice that Maryland's getting them when they're in a valley. But I'm not writing them off because of only two games: both were road games, and they took Stony Brook to overtime and lose to Bucknell by only three; in other words, they were very close to winning both games and entering this game 6-6. They did beat Albany, after all, as well as a very underrated Lehigh team. (On the other hand, they also lost to American.) All things told, they seem to be a fairly inconsistent team, with the ability to lay an egg against poor competition but also with the ability to knock off a superior opponent.
Their three-point shooting, pace, and ability to force turnovers scare me quite a bit, frankly. Maryland hasn't dealt too well this year with track meets (remember Iona?), particularly track meets against teams that are good at forcing turnovers. There's some potential for this to get really sloppy, and if Ferry gets open the Big Red can cause some serious damage. This game is all about execution and taking care of the ball for Maryland; they need to dictate the pace, out-athlete Cornell where they can, and not give up turnovers leading to easy baskets. Oh, and get the ball to Len on the inside when in the halfcourt; that's too big a mismatch not to exploit every possession.
I'm always wary of giving predictions in previews, especially because I'm usually 100% wrong. (As I'm sure all of you can attest.) And this game does worry a bit ... but it'd worry me a lot more if Pe'Shon Howard wasn't on the team. So long as Maryland can rely on Howard to control the pace and be careful with the ball, this is a game they should be winning, particularly now that they can run with the Big Red and outmuscle them on the interior. If Maryland takes care of business in this one - say, another double-digit win, which is what I'm feeling on the way - you should feel very good heading into ACC play.