What: Maryland travels to face 6-0 Northwestern in the Big Ten-ACC challenge, the penultimate such challenge on the ACC side of things for the Terps.
When and Where: 9:15 ET in Evanston, Illinois.
Where to Watch: ESPN2.
Line: Northwestern -5.
Notes / Storylines
Pace. After some faster-paced affairs to start out the season, Maryland is about to be dragged back to earth to what conference play will look like in two years - slow and low-scoring. Out of 347 Division I teams, Northwestern ranks 310th in adjusted tempo, while the Terps come in at 151st. We'll likely see more of an emphasis on the play of Alex Len and the Nick Faust/Seth Allen shooting duo.
Someone's getting exposed. Between these two schools, Maryland's game against Kentucky is the only one against a team in a Big Six conference (besides TCU, who is arguably the worst Big Six team in the country). In the schools' other ten games, the two are undefeated. This is a big game for these two schools, providing an early gut-check before the conference season rolls around.
Will Len dominate again? Len came up big in Maryland's only other tough game of the season, posting season-highs in points (23), rebounds (12), while also tying in blocks (4) and not committing any turnovers against Kentucky. We'll see if the big man will be able to repeat that performance against the Wildcats.
Which Dez Wells will we see? He had great games against LIU Brooklyn and Lafayette, but struggled against Kentucky and Georgia Southern. With the likely slow pace of the game, it's hard to imagine his skillset will be utilized properly.
Passing. These two teams are two of the more prolific in the country in passing, ranking fourth (Maryland) and sixth (Northwestern) respectively in assists, with just over 19 per game. The Wildcats have the advantage in the turnover battle, however, giving the ball away only 11 times per game compared to Maryland's 15.
Potential awkwardness. Maryland and the Big Ten have already announced the conference switch, and now the Terps have to play against their future conference-mates in a tournament set-up as a "conference pride" ordeal. Don't be surprised if T.J. Simers writes another troll-y article accusing the Terps of throwing the game for the benefit of their future conference if they lose this one.
The Opponent (An Overview)
Northwestern is undefeated, running through Texas Southern, Mississippi Valley State, Fairleigh Dickinson, Delaware State, and TCU with relative ease before beating previously undefeated Illinois State in overtime. They've been very effective passers, as we noted in the storylines, but have also done a good job rebounding (40.2 per game) and shooting from three (40.7%).
While Drew Crawford and Reggie Hearn share the scoring load at 13.7 points per game apiece, the offense is run by Dave Sobolewski. The sophomore guard is averaging 10.2 points and 5.0 assists per game and has made half of his 20 three-point attempts this season. He is also tied for the team lead in steals (1.3 per game), only averages 1.2 turnovers per game, and gets about four free throw attempts per game.
The 6'4" Hearn and 6'5" Crawford , both seniors, have provided offense for the Wildcats in different ways. Hearn has been lights out from the floor, shooting 56.3% in general and 57.1% from three, and is pulling in 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game to boot. He's also been remarkably consistent - he's scored 12 points in each of his last three games and has been in double digits in each contest since the first. Crawford, on the other hand, has specialized in volume, leading the team in field goal attempts by a wide margin (73 to Hearn's 48) and playing well on defense - he's averaging 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game. He's also been on fire recently, scoring 18, 12 and 20 in their last three contests respectively.
At power forward is another senior, 6'8" Jared Swopshire, who leads the team in rebounding (6.5 per game), free throws made (3.3 per game), and has the least amount of fouls (three) and turnovers (six) out of the starting five. At center is freshman Alex Olah, from Romania. The seven-footer is averaging 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, and leads the team with seven blocks.
Four bench players play key roles - three freshmen and one senior. Freshman guard Tre Demps scored seven in the season opener against Texas Southern and has alternated between zero and four points ever since (of note: he has missed all twelve of his three-point attempts). Joining him at guard is senior Alex Marcotullio, who has hovered between four and six points per game his entire career but is having his least effective year to date.
To help back-up Olah and Swopshire, the Wildcats use a pair of freshmen at forward - Mike Turner and Kale Abrahamson. Turner is averaging 3.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, and is coming off a ten-rebound, four-assist outing against Illinois State. Abrahamson is averaging 4.8 points per game, and is shooting 41.7% from deep (largely a result of a three-of-four outing in the season opener against Georgia Southern.
Expected Starting Fives:
|Pe`Shon Howard (Jr., 6-2)||Dave Sobolewski (So., 6-1)|
|Nick Faust (So., 6-6)||Reggie Hearn (Sr., 6-4)|
|Dezmine Wells (So., 6-5)||Drew Crawford (Sr., 6-5)|
|James Padgett (Sr., 6-8)||Jared Swopshire (Sr., 6-8)|
|Alex Len (So., 7-1)||Alex Olah (Fr., 7-0)|
Matchup to Watch:
Len vs. Olah. It's the dueling Alex's. The fighting Europeans. Two talented seven-footers face off head-to-head in what should be a slow match-up battled on the inside.
Vegas is favoring Northwestern, and it's hard to blame them after an impressive 6-0 start. I'm going to be biased and continue to think everyone is underselling Maryland until the Terps prove me wrong. Maryland big in a statement win, 68-51.