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Maryland men’s basketball vs. No. 20 Florida preview

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Maryland is looking to avoid a four game losing streak.

Photo courtesy of Maryland athletics

It has been a hectic and shocking start to the season for Maryland men’s basketball that was ranked in the AP poll coming into the year and now has a 5-4 record. It has been over a week since former head coach Mark Turgeon and the program parted ways last Friday, and Maryland has played just one game under new interim head coach Danny Manning.

The Terps lost that game to Northwestern in the opening matchup of Big Ten play. On Sunday at 4:30 p.m., Maryland will be back in nonconference competition as they head to New York to play No. 20 Florida in the Hall of Fame Invitational at the Barclays Center.

The Terps are looking to avoid a four-game losing streak for the first time since the 2004-05 season. After this game, Maryland will have a long break to recalibrate and try to turn this season around. The Terps will not play again until Dec. 28th.

No. 20 Florida Gators (7-2)

2020-21 record: 15-10 (9-7 Southeastern Conference)

Florida is off to a great and somewhat unexpected start to the season under head coach Mike White. White is in his seventh season at Florida and has his team competing atop the SEC year in and year out.

Florida has made the NCAA Tournament in four consecutive years. The Gators have yet to play a conference opponent this season and continue to schedule difficult nonconference matchups every year, with this year being no exception. Florida was not supposed to be a top team in the country this season, but the Gators have surprised many on their way to a top 20 ranking.

Florida started the season 7-0 with impressive wins over Ohio State and Florida State. The Gators then dropped two games in a row to Oklahoma and a shocking loss to an 0-7 Texas Southern. They have since rebounded with a win over North Florida this past week.

Player to know

Colin Castleton, senior forward, 6-foot-11, No. 12 — Castleton has been an absolute force for Florida this season with a plethora of college basketball under his belt. The experienced forward is leading the team in points and rebounds with 15.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, just shy of averaging a double-double. He rarely steps out beyond the arc, but he has dominated in the paint all season. He is coming off a monstrous 26-point performance in 27 minutes against North Florida.

Phlandrous Fleming Jr., graduate guard, 6-foot-5, No. 24 — The grad student has brought solid guard play to the Gators this season. He is the team's second leading scorer with 10.6 points per game. Fleming Jr. has struggled to shoot the ball shooting at 25% from three-point range but he can get downhill and control the offense when he needs to.

Myreon Jones, senior guard, 6-foot-3, No. 0 — Jones is an explosive guard who has proved throughout his collegiate career he is capable of going off at any time. This season, Jones is averaging 10.4 points per game and is second on the team in assists. He also has attempted by far the most threes on the team, connecting on 33% of them.

Strength

Size. Florida has a ton of size on its roster and likes to battle in the paint with opponents. It starts with the star Castleton, but Florida has big men throughout its roster that make contributions, including forward CJ Felder who comes off the bench. Even the Gators guards have size and play a physical brand of basketball.

“We’ve got to match that physicality, we’ve got to match their agression in the paint. And we’ve got to be able to meet that force with force,” Manning said.

Weakness

Three-point shooting. Much like Maryland, the Gators have struggled to shoot it from long range this season. They are a big team that battles in the paint and they try to get to the rim, in large part because of their inability to make threes. When they do shoot threes, it usually doesn't come with much success. Florida is shooting 29% from beyond the arc this year.

Three things to watch

1. Will Maryland play a bigger lineup against Florida’s size? Maryland fans have been wanting to see a two big-man lineup with both Qudus Wahab and Julian Reese on the floor. Turgeon was reluctant to test it as Reese is getting acclimated to a new spot on the court but Manning might be more willing. Against a Florida team with a ton of size, and with a week off in-between games coming into the matchup, this could be the game we see some extended minutes between the two of them.

“Everybody I talk to asks me if I'm going to play Q and Juju together, and I’m 6-10 and I'm like, ‘yes, at some point in time,’” Manning said.

2. Will Maryland’s stars get back on track? The Terps top performers in Eric Ayala and Donta Scott have struggled to start the season, particularly in recent games. Ayala has reached double figures just once in his last three games and is shooting a combined 21% from the field in that span. Scott has been slightly better, but Maryland still isn't getting the consistency they need out of him to elevate the offense. Both are incredibly talented players, which is why fans expect them to get it going sooner rather than later.

“I’ve been there before as a player,” Manning said. “You want to see the ball go in the hoop and then from there you feel like the hoop starts to open up, the lid comes off.”

3. Will Maryland push the pace and play faster? Turgeon’s offenses, including this teams, were always run at a slow pace, which often frustrated people on the outside. Maryland has the ability to get out on the break and push the ball with speedy point guard Fatts Russell. In Manning’s first game against Northwestern, it looked like Maryland was trying to play faster at times, but it will take time to bring those changes on a consistent basis since Turgeon left.

“We've been trying too,” guard Xavier Green said, “You got to get stops, that's the thing. You got to get stops to run.”