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Maryland men’s basketball vs. Louisville preview

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Maryland will take on the Cardinals on Saturday morning for the Baha Mar Hoops Championship event.

Photo courtesy of Maryland athletics

Maryland men’s basketball won a thriller over Richmond Thursday night to advance to the championship game against Louisville in the Baha Mar Hoops event tournament in the Bahamas.

The Terps trailed by nine at halftime but used a 17-3 second-half run to erase the deficit and pull away late, 86-80. Maryland’s identity is becoming a second-half team, but against Richmond, the Terps put together perhaps their best half of the season by locking in defensively, pushing the pace and knocking down shots.

Maryland had been struggling to knock down perimeter shots through its first five games, but shot 43% from three against Richmond, by far its best mark of the season. Junior guard Hakim Hart, who had struggled offensively, had a season-high 24 points on 4-5 shooting from distance.

The nonconference slate — one in which head coach Mark Turgeon called the “hardest” he’s ever played — continues with a matchup against a feisty Louisville team that is coming off a dominant performance against Mississippi State.

Louisville jumped off to an early lead and never looked back in the win. If Maryland is going to capture this tournament championship, a slow start won't be the answer. Despite the Terps incredible resilience this season, the Cardinals have proven to hold onto leads and have a response for every run.

The game will be played on Saturday at 10 a.m. and will be broadcast on CBS Sports network.

Louisville Cardinals (4-1, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference)

2020-21 record: 13-7, 8-5 ACC

Chris Mack is the head man at Louisville and is in his fourth season leading the storied program. Mack came over from Xavier, where he experienced a ton of success in the Big East. A program with a ton of history and accomplishment, Mack has guided the Cardinals to achievement in his short time there.

Mack has made the tournament in nine of his 12 seasons as a head coach, and two years ago, had Louisville as the number one ranked team in the country for multiple weeks, one of 19 coaches ever to do that in their first two years with a program.

Despite Mack continuing to lead the program, he will not be on the sideline against Maryland. Mack was suspended by the university for the first six games of the season, meaning his last game away from the team will be against Maryland. Mike Pegues is serving as the acting head coach in Mack’s absence.

This year's Cardinal squad is a dangerous group that will certainly compete in the coveted ACC. Louisville plays exceptional defense and rebounds well. Maryland’s offense has taken a while to get going in its games this season, and if that’s the case Saturday morning, it might be in for some trouble.

Players to know

Noah Locke, junior guard, 6-foot-3, No. 0 — Locke is Louisville’s best player and go-to option offensively. He can score in a variety of ways, including getting to the rim or knocking down perimeter shots. He hasn’t been great shooting the ball so far this season but is capable of heating up at any time. This offense goes as Locke goes.

Samuell Williamson, junior forward, 6-foot-7, No. 10 — Williamson comes off the bench for the Cardinals but is still one of their most impactful players. He is the second leading scorer on the team and has the second most rebounds. Williamson is also the Cardinals' best defender and is often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s top player, even as a forward.

Dre Davis, sophomore guard, 6-foot-5, No. 14 — Davis is off to a terrific start to the season in his second year with the team. He is tied for the third leading scorer on the team with 8.2 points per game. He is not a serious three-point threat but can score inside and rebound. He also serves as a shot blocker for the Cardinals.

Strength

Depth. Louisville has an incredibly deep roster and likes to play a bunch of different guys to keep the rotation fresh. The Cardinals played 11 different players in the first half against Mississippi State and 10 players finished the game with double-digit minutes. Two of Louisville’s top five scorers come off the bench. With such a short turnaround, the Cardinals' depth and fresh bodies could pay off against Maryland.

Weakness

Free throws. Louisville has struggled from the free-throw line this season, hitting just 65% of its attempts while taking 12 per game. The Cardinals haven't been particularly good shooting the ball from any spot on the floor in the short season as they make just 31% of their threes, but the charity stripe has been a particular concern. Maryland had an issue with fouling too much in its last game, so free throws could come into play for both teams once again.

Three things to watch

1. Has Maryland turned the corner on its three-point shooting? The Terps shot 43% from three on Thursday night against Richmond, by far its best percentage of the year. Maryland had been abysmal shooting the ball coming into that game, hitting on just 25% of its threes. It couldn't get much worse for the Terps shooting which contributed to its lackluster offensive performances. If Maryland is able to start consistently knocking down perimeter shots, it will open up the offense and generate more opportunity for offensive success. Only time will tell if the Terps' good shooting night will become a consistency or an anomaly.

2. Will Maryland continue to push the pace? A large part of Maryland’s big comeback against Richmond was them implementing a press and putting pressure on Richmond’s guards. This sped up the game and allowed the defense to turn into offense. With point guard Fatts Russell running the show, Maryland should play with more tempo and run out in transition. The press allowed them to do that and created easy baskets on the other end. It will be interesting to see if Maryland continues to play with that style, and not just when they are trailing.

“We’re a work in progress, but yeah... it was just to try to get them out of their rhythm,” Turgeon said about the press and pace it created for his offense after the Richmond win.

3. Can Hakim Hart’s strong performance carry over? Coming into the season, Hart was lauded as Maryland’s x-factor by a number of people on the outside. On the defensive end, Hart had clearly improved, but offensively he had been struggling. Entering the game against Richmond, he had 20 points on 6-19 shooting from the floor and 2-11 from deep. Against the Spiders, Hart had 24 points on 8-9 from the field and 4-5 from long range. If Hart can keep up that type of offensive production, or anything close to it, Maryland will be in great shape the rest of the way.

“We talk to him every day about being aggressive and, you know, just finding his rhythm,” guard Eric Ayala said about Hart’s performance against Richmond. “I think today was a big step for him in taking that next step in his game.”