On Saturday afternoon, Maryland will play its second-consecutive third matchup against a Big Ten foe when it meets Michigan State in a semifinal at the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago. After beating Indiana, 75-69, last night, Mark Turgeon's team will look for a three-game sweep of Tom Izzo's Spartans. Tipoff is slated for around 3:30 p.m. College Park time.
Despite taking the first two games between the two, No. 2-seeded Maryland is a narrow underdog. Whoever wins will move to the Big Ten's title match on Sunday afternoon, likely against top-seeded Wisconsin (but, then again, perhaps not). The game will be televised on CBS.
Players to know
Travis Trice, senior, 6'0. Trice is one of the more efficient guards in the league. He's got a 114 offensive rating, via Ken Pomeroy, based on sturdy shooting and excellent playmaking abilities for a shooting guard. He's got a sparkling 32.5 percent assist rate, and his 11.9 percent turnover rate is downright superb for someone who handles the ball as often as Trice does. He'll be a handful for Maryland's Dez Wells and Richaud Pack. He struggled badly (like the rest of his team) when Maryland routed Michigan State in College Park in January, though, laboring to 5 points on 1-of-8 shooting.
Denzel Valentine, junior, 6'5. Valentine's a big, physical guard-forward in a similar mold to Wells. He's a terrific three-point shooter (42 percent on the year) and, like Trice, a nice passer. He's got the same 114 ORtg Trice has, and he's the likeliest player other than Trice to give Maryland major fits on the perimeter.
Branden Dawson, senior, 6'6. Dawson has been completely neutralized in two games against Maryland, but he's a physical menace who can defend the post brilliantly and score a bit, too. He's not always efficient; on Friday, he had 14 points on 14 shots against Ohio State, but he's a top-70 rebounder nationally on both ends of the floor. For a Maryland team that's been repeatedly gashed on the glass lately, that could be a problem.
Matt Costello, junior, 6'9. Costello doesn't shoot a ton, but he's got an excellent 120 ORtg, based largely on an outstanding 12.9 percent offensive rebounding rate. He also blocks a lot of shots.
Bryn Forbes, junior, 6'3. Another Spartan with good efficiency numbers, Forbes doesn't have an enormous role in the offense, but he makes the shots he does take count. He's a 42 percent shooter from beyond the arc, and he's solid both inside and at the foul line, too. Maryland might know him best as the player who missed a wide-open three-pointer as time expired that would've beaten the Terps at the Breslin Center in December, but he's more dangerous than that.
Offensive rebounding. The Spartans grabbed 34.1 percent of their misses in league play, the third-best mark in the conference. Dawson and Costello are tremendous offensive rebounders, in particular, and figure to give a rebound-challenged Maryland team problems in that area.
Blocking shots. This is a big deal for Michigan State, which blocked a league-best 14.7 percent of its opponents' shots during Big Ten play. That's a really high number (the national average is 9.6 percent), and it's helped Michigan State hold opponents to low shooting efficiencies throughout the season. It adds up to Maryland not making much of an effort to score in the post on Saturday.
Foul shooting. The Spartans are awful from the foul line. They made just 62.4 percent of their free throws during conference play, which was comfortably the worst mark in the conference. They're about average in drawing fouls, but they're downright horrible at capitalizing once they get to the line. Expect Maryland to drastically out-produce Michigan State on foul shots, especially since the Spartans give up quite a few free-throw opportunities.
Forcing turnovers on defense. Maryland doesn't do much of this, either, but the Spartans have been bad all year in creating defensive turnovers. They only took the ball away on 16 percent of opposing possessions during the regular season, so Maryland should at least have a chance to run its offense and get looks at the basket.
KenPom's prediction: Michigan State, 67-65. Spartans given a 60 percent chance to win.
Alex's prediction: Michigan State, 70-66. It's strikingly hard to beat a team three times in one season, much less once coached by Izzo and playing on a tournament court far closer to its campus than Maryland's. The Spartans have underachieved this year, but no one can say they don't have talent, and I've always been a skeptic that Maryland can keep playing close games and never drop one. If it's ever going to happen, this seems like a likely time.