The Maryland men's basketball team plays its biggest game in a generation on Thursday night against Kansas.
When the Terps and Jayhawks tip in Louisville around 9:40 p.m. ET (CBS), a berth in the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight will be on the line. It will be Maryland's first Sweet 16 game in 13 years, at precisely the point when Maryland has the most talented roster it is likely to have at any point in the foreseeable future. There is much to play for.
Kansas is stiff opposition. The Jayhawks are the tournament's top overall seed, and the South Region should be presumed theirs until somebody takes it from them. They have won 16 games in a row and generally looked dominant in doing so, and it might well take nothing less than Maryland's best performance in years for the Terps to advance.
This is what the Terps are up against:
Kansas Jayhawks (32-4, 15-3 Big 12)
Bill Self is 384-82 in 13 seasons in Lawrence. He previously coached at Illinois, Tulsa and Oral Roberts. At Kansas, he succeeded Roy Williams, whom Maryland coach Mark Turgeon worked under in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Self has established himself as one of the sport's best recruiters, and he's a savvy in-game manager, too.
Maryland in the Sweet 16 – full coverage
Players to know
Frank Mason, junior, guard, 5'11, No. 0. The speedy point guard behind Self''s entire operation, Mason is a jack of all trades. He scores 13 points per game and adds four assists and five rebounds. He's not a three-point shooter by trade (and only takes 32 percent of his shots from deep), but he makes almost 40 percent of those he does fire off.
Wayne Selden, junior, guard, 6'5, No. 1. Selden shoots 40 percent on threes, a pedestrian mark by the Jayhawks' standards. He scores 14 points per game and adds a small helping of rebounding and playmaking. He's not as prolific a rebounder as he seems based on his ripped figure and athleticism, but he's physical and a strong defender.
Devonte' Graham, sophomore, guard, 6'2, No. 4. Graham is the least known head on Kansas' three-headed guard monster, but he gives the Jayhawks more of the goodness Mason and Selden already bring. He shoots 44 percent from deep, where he takes more than half his shots. Maryland will need to assign him a permanent bodyguard.
Perry Ellis, senior, forward, 6'8, No. 34. Ellis is Kansas' best player and one of the best in the country, anywhere. He looks like he's about 45 years old, and - there's actually not a joke here - he plays with remarkable wisdom for a college player. He doesn't take bad shots, doesn't commit fouls, doesn't lose the ball and doesn't do anything to set back Kansas. He scores 17 points and gets six rebounds per game, and he shoots 44 percent on threes. Robert Carter Jr. and Jake Layman will likely spend the entire game on Ellis, and how well they do will determine what kind of a shot Maryland has.
Landen Lucas, junior, forward, 6'10, No. 33. Lucas is the anchor at the center of Kansas' defensive efforts. He's not a huge part of the offense, but he's a gigantic part of Kansas' elite defense around its own basket.
Everything on offense. Here's a quick rundown of Kansas' national ranks, out of 351 Division I teams:
Effective field goal percentage: 8th
Three-point shooting percentage: 4th
Two-point shooting percentage: 34th
Foul shooting percentage: 130th
Assist rate: 105th
Offensive rebound rate: 84th
Kansas is great at shooting and merely solidly above average at the other things. The shooting is what probably will terrify Maryland coaches the most. Nine different Jayhawks have taken at least six three-point shots this season, and every one of them is shooting 39 percent or better. It is beyond the point of absurdity how good Kansas is at shot-making.
Almost everything on defense. Let's do the same exercise as above. Here are Kansas' national ranks:
Effective field goal percentage allowed: 15th
Three-point shooting percentage allowed: 95th
Three-point attempts out of total shot attempts: 68th
Two-point shooting percentage allowed: 18th
Offensive rebound rate allowed: 115th
Free throw attempts per field goal attempt: 182nd
Kansas defends shots very well, particularly inside. It's not easy to score against this team, as evidenced by its No. 5 rating in adjusted defensive efficiency. Lucas is a ferocious interior defender, and Ellis is good at getting in teams' way, too. Despite often playing with three guards, Kansas doesn't get pushed around.
If there's anything Maryland might be able to exploit here, it's probably Kansas' propensity to foul, which is mild but sticks out relative to its other excellence. The Jayhawks don't foul overwhelmingly often, but free throw frequency allowed is the only major defensive stat in which it's below the national median or average. The Jayhawks allowed a ridiculous 37 free throws to 16th-seeded Austin Peay in the first round. If Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon can get running downhill, they should be able to find points at the line.
Maryland needs to find a way to penetrate against Kansas' three top guards – Mason, Graham and Selden. That could lead to some chances at the foul line. Lucas (5.9 fouls called per 40 minutes) is a good defender, but he's not above hacking away if a big scorer (see: Stone, Diamond) can corral the ball against him in the post.
There's no obvious recipe for success in stopping Kansas' shooters. Sulaimon will need to be almost perfect, probably against Graham or Selden, just like he was against Michigan State's Bryn Forbes in the Big Ten Tournament. Jake Layman will have to be stingy both on the wing and in the post, as he'll likely spend time against both Selden and Ellis. And if Mason can jump free off ball screens to set up kick-out threes, Maryland is probably finished.
Kansas, 76-70. Maryland has a 27 percent chance to win.
Kansas is better than Maryland, and I expect the game to happen before a mostly pro-Kansas crowd. I've been down on Maryland for weeks now, and a lot of what happened in the Terps' first two games doesn't suggest they're about to flip a switch and roll over the best team in the land. Self is also a more established tournament coach than Mark Turgeon, and he's done more over the course of the season to get the best out of his players.
On the other hand, I like how Maryland matches up.
Kansas has an edge at power forward, and that's only because Ellis is brilliant, not because Carter isn't very good himself. Elsewhere, though, is Maryland at an obvious disadvantage anywhere in the two teams' primary lineups? I wouldn't take Mason over Trimble. I wouldn't take Selden over Layman. I wouldn't take Lucas over Stone. Graham is a little better than Sulaimon, but Sulaimon has successfully contained better players in just the past few weeks.
The teams' benches are closer than you probably think. Kansas has more shooters on its bench than Maryland does, but it doesn't have a bench stopper as good as Damonte Dodd.
Maryland has more talent in its rotation, one through eight, than Kansas does, but it's close. Kansas has harnessed its talent much more efficiently than Maryland throughout the season.
The Terrapins need to dig deep for one night. Predictions are a fool's errand, but mine is this:
Maryland keeps dancing, 78-77.