Maryland men’s basketball is coming off a week-long break and will be back in action Sunday at 4:30 p.m. in a road game at Iowa. The matchup will air on Big Ten Network.
Coming into its game against Ohio State last Sunday, Maryland was searching for its groove in conference play coming off two ugly losses to Michigan and Rutgers. It got a boost from graduate guard Jahmir Young, who put the team on his back with 30 points and 11 rebounds to lift his team to victory.
Sunday’s game marks the beginning of the toughest stretch of Maryland’s conference schedule, having to play six games in the span of 16 days to end the month of January. Four of those games will be at home, but before the Terps can think about playing in front of the XFINITY Center crowd they’ll have to play at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where they are 2-3 all-time, dropping their last two in Iowa City.
KenPom.com projects a 76-73 win for the Hawkeyes Sunday afternoon.
Iowa Hawkeyes (11-6, 3-3 Big Ten)
Iowa was in serious trouble of entering a free fall after its first 14 games, starting 8-6 overall — including a shocking nine-point home loss to Eastern Illinois — and 0-3 in the Big Ten. Since then, however, head coach Fran McCaffery’s team has rattled off three consecutive wins over Indiana, Rutgers and Michigan, offering hope that this year’s iteration of the Hawkeyes can compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament just a season removed from winning the Big Ten tournament.
Impressively, Iowa has turned its season around without junior guard Patrick McCaffery, who is currently on a leave of absence due to anxiety. Even without his 12.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, the Hawkeyes remain deep, experienced and dangerous enough to beat any team in the Big Ten on any night, especially at home.
Players to know
Kris Murray, junior forward, 6-foot-8, No. 24 — The twin brother of No. 4 overall NBA Draft pick and Sacramento Kings rookie Keegan Murray, Kris Murray has stepped right into his brother’s shoes as the Hawkeyes’ best all-around player. He is averaging 21.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, both of which are near the top of the Big Ten. If Purdue’s Zach Edey wasn’t in the league this year, Murray would have a strong case for the Big Ten Player of the Year award.
Filip Rebraca, fifth-year forward, 6-foot-9, No. 0 — Iowa is an undersized team by Big Ten standards, but 6-foot-9 Filip Rebraca holds his own more than well enough for the Hawkeyes to compete with the league’s best. His 8.9 rebounds per game is just behind Murray for fifth in the conference. Against a Maryland team that doesn’t have consistent play down low, Rebraca is in position to make a major impact Sunday.
Payton Sandfort, sophomore guard, 6-foot-7, No. 20 — Sandfort willed his team to victory over Michigan Thursday, putting in a season-high 26 points, 14 of which came in the final minute-plus of regulation and overtime. He’s one of five Hawkeyes averaging double-digit points, although he has not knocked down 3-pointers at a consistent clip this season, shooting just 28% from three.
Offense. As has been the case in recent years, Iowa is one of the best offensive teams in the country. It ranks No. 9 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom, which, if it finishes there, would mark Iowa’s fourth consecutive season in the top 10 — the previous three it finished in the top five. Patrick McCaffery’s absence certainly makes the Hawkeyes a little bit less daunting, but they are still talented enough to score the ball with ease.
Defensive consistency. The flip side of Iowa’s reputation as an offensive juggernaut is its reputation as a team that struggles on the defensive end. This year’s Iowa squad isn’t quite as poor in that regard as some of its predecessors, but it still ranks 117th in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom. The Hawkeyes have given up 80 or more points in four of their last six games, needing every bit of their high-powered offense to compete.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland improve on the road? Since its win at Louisville on Nov. 29, Maryland has struggled mightily away from College Park. The Terps couldn’t get anything going offensively at Wisconsin, Michigan and Rutgers, and needed a huge second half to make their neutral-site game against Tennessee close. Iowa is 8-2 at home this season, so they’ll have their work cut out for them.
2. Full-court press. Maryland has seen its most success this year when it’s able to apply full-court pressure to opponents and force turnovers, leading to transition baskets. Iowa thrives in a fast-paced setting, though. If nothing else, the Terps pressuring the Hawkeyes’ guards in the backcourt could draw out possessions and give them less time to set their offense up in the half court.
3. Bubble implications. It’s still early to spend too much attention on bracket projections, but when Selection Sunday arrives, these games in January will play a major role in deciding teams’ fates. In his NCAA Tournament bracket projection on Friday night, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi placed Maryland and Iowa just one overall seed apart, both as nine seeds. The Big Ten looks very unpredictable this year, so a win over a fellow team on the fringe could stand out when the selection committee makes its picks in March.