Todd, Jake, Noah, Pete, Dave and FlaTerp were kind enough to impart some wisdom in this week's roundtable. The conversation covers Maryland football's game against Iowa last weekend and Wisconsin on Saturday, plus some preseason basketball nuggets. Let's get to it:
Q. What was the most encouraging thing you saw in Maryland's win over Iowa last Saturday?
Todd: I saw several encouraging things in Saturday's game. First and foremost was Maryland's line play on both sides of the ball. After hearing all week about how the Terps were going to get steamrolled by Iowa's massive lines, what I saw on Saturday was quite the opposite and it certainly surprised me. Second, nearly a dozen touches for one Stefon Diggs. If I haven't said it here before, I'll say it now: Good things happen for Maryland when Diggs touches the ball. Oh, and also being able to feel a bit smug about two comments in our picks and predictions roundtable back on August 28:
Noah: I think the most encouraging thing to me was that Maryland didn't fold after being down 14-0 against a good Iowa team. They took a deep breath and then got themselves back in the game. I have been screaming for Stefon Diggs to get the ball more and like Todd said, good things happen when you get Diggs the ball.
Jake: Yeah, I'll echo Todd and say the line play. We heard about Iowa's big offensive line, and how Scherff is a future NFL prospect and after the first two drives....Maryland dominated them. You stop the run against Iowa, you win. And that's what Maryland did.
Pete: The line play was definitely impressive, but in the interest of picking something else I'm just going to say that Maryland played a good football team they were supposed to beat and beat them. That has not happened often for the Terps, and this was the kind of win Randy Edsall was supposed to bring about with the increased depth and consistency. Now let's not get all stupid when they probably lose to Wisconsin.
Dave: To me, the most important thing was that Maryland is a competitive football team in the Big Ten. Are they on the level of Ohio State? No, not yet. But they're certainly one of the better 2nd tier teams in the conference and I think that's important. They beat a very good Iowa team at home and did so despite having to use their third string quarterback during some very important portions of the game.
FlaTerp: I'd say the single most impressive thing to me was the defensive front, and even more specifically, how great Andre Monroe and Darius Kilgo looked in a matchup that was supposed to favor Iowa but swung decisively toward the Terps instead.
Q. Did Maryland's improved rush defense against Iowa do anything to soothe concerns you had about Wisconsin running up a ridiculous ground yardage total this week?
Todd: In a word, no. But there are some caveats. If my concerns are soothed at all, it's thinking about the Indiana and Syracuse games. In the former, even though Syracuse picked up lots of yards, Maryland had a comfortable enough lead that if Syracuse wanted to keep the ball on the ground for most of the fourth quarter trailing by 18, I was fine with that. And I think Maryland contained Tevin Coleman effectively. I think a third of his yards come on one run late in the third quarter with the Terps ahead by a bunch. The other is time of possession. Maryland had the TOP advantage against Iowa. Sure, it was only a minute but it seems to me that the Terps have been pretty battered in that metric most of the season.
Jake: To an extent, yes. It was good to see Maryland put together a consistent, nearly entire game effort in stopping Iowa's run game. With that said, stopping Melvin Gordon is an entirely different proposition. Especially with some of the Terps struggled in the run game at LB. If he gets to the second level....well, yeah it's gonna be a long day. But they showed some signs of encouragement, and stacking the box wouldn't hurt. Wisconsin's QB play is still suspect.
Noah: God no. Wisconsin is the most efficient running team in the nation and in my opinion they have the best run game in the country. Maryland can't stop them and they won't stop them. And they definitely won't do it in Camp Randall.
Pete: Iowa and Wisconsin have such vastly different running backs that it's hard to compare. Mark Weisman did a fine job bulldozing through Maryland's defensive front, but the Terrapins did a better job limiting big plays. Melvin Gordon is a big play machine for Wisconsin, and I don't know if Maryland has the speed up front to deal with him.
Dave: I just think it's hard to compare the two teams from a rushing perspective, as Pete mentioned. Maryland has done a good job limiting some of the conference's B1G rushers this season, including Tevin Coleman. Can they do it against Wisconsin and Melvin Gordon? Probably not. Wisconsin is averaging 7.9(!) yards per carry this season! Even if the Terps held them to say five yards per carry, they're still running the ball pretty darn well. I think Maryland can maybe limit Wisconsin some in the rushing game, but Gordon will still have a big day. The question is whether Maryland's offense can keep pace.
FlaTerp: No. Wisconsin is entirely a different animal.
Q. The Terps are heavy underdogs on the road, in a tough environment against Wisconsin. What degree of confidence do you have that they might win?
Todd: Probably not as confident as the users of that brand are reputed to be in their protection from underarm wetness and odor but heck, Maryland has won five straight on the road and I don't think Wisconsin is a substantially tougher environment than Virginia Tech. If Wisconsin wins, the likely cause is the physical disparity and not the environment.
Jake: If Maryland loses this game, it's because they get comfortably beaten up front. I don't think the environment will affect them a lot. They played in Tallahassee last year. It'll come down to how they do up front. Keep it close, relatively even, and they'll have a very good chance to pull the upset and probably win. Don't, and it'll be a long day. But it won't be because of the crowd and atmosphere.
Noah: Todd, if you don't think that Camp Randall is a tougher place to play than Lane Stadium, then you must not have taken in a game in Madison, Wisconsin. Since the 2011 season, Wisconsin has only lost three home games. Two of those were overtime games. I have zero, I repeat, zero, confidence that they will win.
Pete: Not very high, but it's possible. This feels like a game Maryland will lose, and that's okay -- they're not quite at Wisconsin's level yet, and a loss does not mean an unsuccessful season.
Dave: Maryland could win on Saturday; stranger things have happened. But this will be one of the toughest road environments Maryland has played in and Wisconsin is a very, very good team, so I'm expecting the Badgers to get the W.
FlaTerp: I'm not optimistic. I just want Maryland to represent itself well, play four good quarters and come out of the game looking at least as good as they did going in. Nobody thinks they're going to win at Wisconsin, just like nobody thought they'd beat Ohio State. But it was how they lost to Ohio State that ruffled my (and many others') feathers. It wasn't just that they lost. So IF the Terps have to take one on the chin this week against a better team that outplays them, just look valiant in defeat, that's all. Show up and compete. Don't look like you don't belong on the same field, which is how they looked against the Buckeyes.
Q. Basketball-wise, news came down this week that forward Evan Smotrycz will miss at least a month with an injury. How would you replace him?
Todd: Two words: Alyssa Thomas. Seriously, for me there are simply too many unknowns about this team not only from a personnel standpoint but from a design standpoint as well. Maybe Cekovsky is tougher than we've heard or maybe Dood is further along than anyone suspects and Turgeon can use a three guard offense. (And I penned this before reading Dave's Monday story about starting lineups.) As my most relied upon seer, the Magic 8 Ball responded, "Replay hazy, try again."
Jake: Well, more playing time for Michael Cekovsky. We'll have to throw him into the fire early. I think down the road we would've seen more and more playing time for him. Guess it'll have to come sooner rather than later.
Noah: Todd's creativity is invaluable to this space but if we were really going down that path, I'd go with Tianna Hawkins who was an incredibly effective rebounder. Cekovsky is going to get big minutes early on and hopefully he learns quickly. This is an opportunity for him to build confidence but it could also turn bad if he struggles early and often.
Pete: Alyssa Thomas would be a dream come true. Cekovsky is the obvious answer, I think -- he and Melo Trimble are the two freshmen most likely to play significant minutes this season, and this gives him an opportunity to get used to game speed against some easier opponents early on. If Smotrycz is still out by the team the CBE Classic comes around, Cekovsky has hopefully improved significantly by then. With Jon Graham, you know what you're going to get. That's fine and all, but improvement there is unlikely.
Dave: My move would be starting Michal Cekovsky. I think he's probably the best option and it could give Mark Turgeon an opportunity to see where he stands in terms of his development. Cekovsky is just a great all-around player, too, and would likely be a matchup nightmare for whoever has to guard him, especially if he was playing at the 4-spot on the court.
FlaTerp: I'd first give Graham a chance. See if he can elevate his game and be competitive rebounder and defender against starter-caliber players. Short leash, though. If he's not up to it, then start Checko instead. We need the height and whatever rim protection and interior D we can get out of the 4.
Q. Which non-Melo Trimble freshman do you think will make the biggest impact for Mark Turgeon's team?
Todd: There are non-Melo Trimble freshmen on the team? That's news to me. I'd have to say Cekovsky because he's 7'1" and, you know, you can't coach that.
Jake: I'll say Dion Wiley or Jared Nickens. Maryland's needed perimeter shooting for.....awhile now. I think those two can - and will - provide that.
Noah: It has to be Cekovsky. Maryland needs the interior presence and I think Maryland will find out what they have with him pretty soon. I'll pray he turns into Frank Kaminsky.
Pete: The injury to Smotrycz opens the door for Cekovsky to have an early impact, so that'll be my choice. I think Nickens can have a strong role as an off-the-bench shooter, as well, and I'm excited to see what Maryland gets from Wiley.
Dave: Definitely Cekovsky. I think he could realistically just as important to this team as Melo this season, especially when you consider the rebounding void Maryland has to fill with the transfer of Charles Mitchell. And just having a 7-footer who can step back and hit 3s consistently gives you a pretty big edge over a lot of opponents.
FlaTerp: I think Checko. Maryland has to play him. They need that length on the court and they're thin at forward and center. The other non-Melo freshmen, they can afford to be a little more patient with.