No. 23 Maryland men’s basketball is undefeated through five games and will show off its shiny new ranking at the XFINITY Center against the Coppin State Eagles on Friday at 4 p.m.
Head coach Kevin Willard is the first-ever Maryland men’s basketball coach to start his tenure with a 5-0 record. Willard has implemented his system quickly, featuring a rampant defense that closes out on 3-point shooters and forces the opposing team to milk the shot clock. So far, so good in that respect; as of Wednesday morning, the Terps have the eighth best perimeter defense in the nation and force the 337th longest defensive possessions in the country, according to KenPom.com.
Willard says he is an easy coach to play for, and if you give it your all on the defensive end, you have some freedom on offense. In Maryland’s dominant weekend at the Hall of Fame Tip Off Classic in Uncasville, Connecticut, that philosophy worked to perfection. The Terps averaged a whopping 91.5 points per game against high-quality teams Miami and Saint Louis.
The Terps are playing as hard as ever for 40 minutes straight, and the Maryland fanbase is completely rejuvenated through five games.
Friday’s game will air on BTN Plus. Let’s take a look at the Eagles.
Coppin State (3-4, 0-0 MEAC)
2021-22 record: 9-23 (6-8 MEAC)
Maryland legend Juan Dixon returns to College Park in his sixth year as Coppin State head coach. Dixon is a man who needs no introduction, bringing Maryland its first and only national title in 2002. Dixon is arguably the most decorated Terp of all time, being named to the All-ACC first team thrice, winning ACC Player of the Year in 2002 and being named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2002 Final Four. Dixon was a special assistant to former Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon from Nov. 2013 to July 2016.
Dixon’s Eagles are off to a rollercoaster start to the season, losing their first two games and winning their next three games. Coppin State comes into College Park on a two-game losing streak, though, having lost to Marshall and Towson on the road. As its schedule shapes out, Maryland should be the toughest team Coppin State faces all season. The Eagles are just two seasons removed from a MEAC regular-season title, but only a few players from the 2020-21 team remain on this year’s roster.
Former Maryland walk-ons John and Kent Auslander are also listed as assistant coaches under Dixon.
Players to know
Sam Sessoms, redshirt senior, six-foot guard, No. 3 — Maryland fans are likely familiar with Sessoms, who spent his last two seasons at Penn State. The point guard had two lackluster games against the Terps in 2021, but the third time was the charm for Sessoms, dropping 17 points in a close 67-61 loss to Maryland on Feb. 21. Sessoms did not receive any preseason recognition by the conference, but was named preseason Newcomer of the Year and first team all-conference by The Almanac. He leads the Eagles with 22 points and 5.7 assists per game thus far.
Nendah Tarke, redshirt sophomore, six-foot-four guard, No. 4 — Tarke had a fantastic 2021-22 season, proving his worth on defense with a nation-leading 2.94 steals per game. Tarke has continued that trend this year, recording at least three steals in more than half of Coppin State’s games. A preseason All-MEAC First Team honoree, Tarke is second in the team in scoring at 12.9 points per game and is the team’s leading rebounder at 5.6 boards per contest.
Justin Winston, senior forward, six-foot-eight, No. 35 — Winston is the only other player averaging double-digit points for the Eagles. Coppin State’s starting center, Winston is averaging 10.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Winston played last season at St. Bonaventure and previously played at Robert Morris.
Pace of play. Coppin State plays with the 17th fastest adjusted tempo in the country, according to KenPom. The Terps have raced teams out of the building and have made an emphasis to speed the game up by pressing and not walking the ball down the court. If Coppin State can hang around for a little, it will be because it can keep up with how Maryland sets the tone.
Rebounding. Coppin State has been decimated on the boards this season, holding an average rebounding margin of -10.2 boards per game. The Eagles are also one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country, as its 20.8% offensive rebounding percentage ranks 327th in the country, according to KenPom. Maryland holds a 6.8 rebounds per game margin on the young season.
Three things to watch
1. A homecoming for Dixon. Friday’s game is expected to be a blowout by all means, but that should not overshadow the main storyline of the day. Dixon, who seemingly put his name in the ring for Maryland’s open head coaching vacancy last season, will return to Maryland on another sideline for the first time. For a program that has been around for more than 100 years, Dixon was the best player on the only Maryland team to ever achieve the glory of winning a national title. He should receive a warm reception Friday.
2. Will the Donta Scott show continue? Scott played like a superstar at the Terps’ early-season tournament, averaging 24.5 points per game on 68% shooting from the field. He is certainly playing like the First Team All-Big Ten player that Willard expects him to be, and perhaps could be playing himself into the 2023 NBA Draft. Scott is fun to watch right now and could keep it going against a weak opponent at home.
3. Last tune-up before a massive five-game stretch. Maryland should breeze past the Eagles, but an arduous path awaits as the schedule will heat up next week. The Terps should be significant road favorites in at winless Louisville on Nov. 29, but it is their first true road game under Willard. After that, the Terps will open Big Ten play with a Dec. 2 home game against ranked Illinois and a Dec. 6 game at Wisconsin. Then, the Terps will return to nonconference play with two premier ranked matchups, facing Tennessee at the Barclays Center on Dec. 11 and hosting UCLA on Dec. 14. Maryland will likely be 6-0 heading into that gauntlet, which will tell us more about this team.