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Maryland vs. Valparaiso preview: Terps open NCAA Tournament with Crusaders

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Terp fans may be disappointed with a No. 4 seed, but who will Maryland be facing?

Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland ended up with a No. 4 seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, surprising many and leaving the Terps with an opening matchup against No. 13 Valparaiso. The Terps will have to go through the Crusaders and either Buffalo or West Virginia before a likely date with Kentucky in the Sweet 16, receiving one of the tournament's toughest opening draws. The game will tip off Friday in Columbus.

Valparaiso went 28-5 this season, winning both the regular season and tournament titles in the newly Butler-less Horizon League. The Crusaders are ranked No. 63 in KenPom (Maryland is No. 33) and boast six top-100 wins: two against No. 69 Green Bay, one against No. 73 Murray State and three versus No. 99 Cleveland State.

Former star Valparaiso point guard Bryce Drew returned to the school in 2005 after an eight-year professional career, starting as an assistant before working his way up to head coach prior to the 2011-12 season. In his four years with the school, the Crusaders are 94-41 with a 49-17 conference record, making two NCAA tournaments and winning three regular season conference titles.

Players to know

Alec Peters, sophomore, 6'9. Valparaiso's leading scorer, Peters is averaging 16.7 points per game and a team-high 6.8 rebounds. He's a big kid that can stretch the floor, shooting 46.2 percent from three this season, 85.9 percent from the free-throw line and 50.0 percent from two. Peters is one of the best pure scorers in the country (No. 28 in offensive rating), and how Jake Layman is able to handle him will go a long way towards Maryland's result in this one.

Darien Walker, junior, 6'3. Walker is second on the team with 10.8 points per game, and will likely match up with Richaud Pack at the shooting guard position. He's another deep threat (37.0 percent) who averages 4.5 rebounds per game from a guard position.

Keith Carter, junior, 6'1. Carter splits time at the point guard position with Walker and freshman Tevonn Walker (a promising driver who averages 3.4 free throw attempts per game), and leads the team with 3.7 assists per game. Maryland has the decided advantage with Melo Trimbe here, but Carter was one of the conference's best passers this season.

David Skara, freshman, 6'8. Valparaiso's height could pose problems for Maryland -- with the Terps' traditional lineup set-up, the 6'8 Skara would play opposite 6'5 Dez Wells. The good news for Maryland is Skara hasn't been a big part of the Crusaders' offense this season, scoring 5.5 points per game with one of the highest turnover rates on the team (27.6)

Vashil Fernandez, senior, 6'10. The Crusaders' starting center, Fernandez averages 6.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game and is one of the nation's top shotblockers. He's averaging 2.9 blocks per game and is sixth in the nation with a 13.2 block percentage.

Strengths:

Defense. The Crusaders have held opponents to 42.1 percent on two-point attempts this season (13th in the nation) and their height allows them to block a lot of interior shots. Maryland's offense has been heavily dependent on their guards' ability to drive to the lane, but the big bodies of Fernandez, Peters and Skara could make that difficult.

Three-point shooting. Valparaiso is shooting 38.1 percent from three as a team this season, ranking No. 36 in the nation. That's mostly Peters and the two Walkers, but it was enough to grant them an uncontested conference championship this season.

Weaknesses:

Turnovers. Opponents stole the ball on 10.4 percent of Valparaiso possessions this season, ranking No. 283 in the country. Maryland ranks 321st in the defensive steal percentage, however, so the Terps may not be able to take advantage.

Free-throw shooting. The Crusaders have made 68.7 percent of free-throw attempts this season, ranking No. 198 in the nation. Maryland ranks No. 14 at 75.7 percent.

Predictions:

KenPom’s prediction: Maryland, 63-60. 62 percent chance Maryland wins.

Our prediction: Maryland 76, Valparaiso 64. The Crusaders keep it close with strong three-point shooting early, but the Terps' strong guard play is more than enough to pull away.