Looking to remain perfect at home in Big Ten play, Maryland men’s basketball returns to the XFINITY Center for a matchup against Penn State on Saturday at noon.
The Terps had their four-game win streak snapped at Michigan State on Tuesday, falling to the Spartans, 63-58. Maryland started the game on the wrong side of a 15-0 score, showing shades of previous Big Ten road blowouts in January. However, the Terps fought and ultimately took the lead in the second half before falling in a nail-biter. Jahmir Young’s 17 points led four Terps in double figures, but Maryland did not have enough to overcome a putrid 3-for-22 3-point shooting performance.
Maryland is still in position to fight for a top-four seed and a double-bye in March’s Big Ten Tournament. The Terps are just one game back of a three-way tie for second place in the conference.
Saturday’s game is expected to be close to a sellout, with no student tickets remaining and fewer than 500 general public seats available, according to MarylandWillWin.com. The Terps are expected to be sizable favorites, as KenPom.com projects Maryland as a seven-point favorite. Saturday’s annual “red out” game will air on Big Ten Network.
Penn State Nittany Lions (14-10, 5-8 Big Ten)
Head coach Micah Shrewsberry is in his second season leading Penn State, and he has done an applaudable job leading the Nittany Lions back to relevancy. After going 14-17 in his first season, the former NBA and college assistant tied last season’s win total before the calendar turned to February.
The bad news is that the Nittany Lions have lost three straight games since then and are moving off the NCAA Tournament bubble; Penn State only appears in four of the 106 projected brackets listed on BracketMatrix.com. The Nittany Lions are coming off a gut-wrenching home loss to Wisconsin on Wednesday, where they blew a late second-half lead before falling in overtime. As of Thursday afternoon, the Nittany Lions rank No. 62 in the NET with a combined 5-10 record in quadrant one and two games. Penn State has successfully avoided quadrant three and quadrant four losses thus far, making Saturday an opportunity to get back into the conversation.
Players to know
Jalen Pickett, senior+ guard, 6-foot-4, No. 22 — Pickett has not only been Penn State’s best player, but he has been one of the best players in the entire country. Pickett leads the Nittany Lions with 17.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and seven assists per game. The Siena transfer is in his second year in a Penn State uniform, and he has made the most of it. He ranks ninth in the KenPom player of the year standings, and his 42.3% assist rate ranks second nationally.
“I think Jalen Pickett is probably as effective as a player as I’ve seen from the guard position in a really long time,” Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said. “Shooting percentage, assist-turnover ratio, the way he posts up, takes his time, finds everybody. Micah runs good stuff for him, they have shooters around him. But he is as efficient as a player for the minutes he’s logging, the amount of possessions that he has, he is unbelievable.”
Seth Lundy, senior guard/forward, 6-foot-6, No. 1 — Maryland fans are likely familiar with Lundy, who is in his fourth year at Penn State. Averaging 14.7 points and 6.2 boards per game, Lundy is Penn State’s second-leading scorer and rebounder. Lundy is a sniper from beyond the arc, as his 45.1% 3-point percentage ranks seventh nationally.
Andrew Funk, senior+ guard, 6-foot-5, No. 10 — Another mid-major transfer, Funk has had no problem becoming an impact player in the Big Ten. A three-year starter at Bucknell, Funk is averaging 12.7 points per game this year while shooting 40.6% from three, the 43rd-best mark in the nation. According to KenPom, Funk is second nationally in fouls committed per 40 minutes.
Three-point shooting. Led by Lundy and Funk, Penn State can be lethal from beyond the arc. The Nittany Lions shoot 38.4% from deep, the best percentage in the Big Ten and the 18th-best nationally. Maryland has the 39th-best perimeter defense in the country, according to KenPom, and will need to stay steady to avoid being upset at home.
“Lundy’s hit 40 [threes] in conference, Funk’s hit 40 in conference. Like you know what they’re going to do, but again, I think that goes back [and] tells you how good Jalen Pickett is. The fact that everybody knows what Funk and Lundy are gonna do, and yet they’re still getting that, shooting those percentages just shows you how good of a guard Pickett is,” Willard said.
Offensive rebounding. Penn State is the worst offensive rebounding team in the country, per KenPom. The Nittany Lions have just a 17.6% offensive rebounding percentage, directly below the clip of Division I-newbie Stonehill. Penn State averages 5.8 offensive rebounds per game, the worst in the Big Ten, and ranks 13th in the Big Ten in combined team rebounds per game.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland keep its recent stretch going? Even in its tough loss at Michigan State, Maryland showed its resilience and competed — despite its lack of perimeter shooting — in one of the toughest environments in America. If the Terps hold serve at home against the Nittany Lions, they will be winners of five of their last six heading into a highly anticipated rematch with No. 1 Purdue.
2. What will the 3-point shooting — and shot selection — look like? It certainly is not a secret that Maryland is a bad 3-point shooting team. At 30.2% from beyond the arc, the Terps rank 326th nationally in 3-point percentage. Approximately 37.7% of the Terps’ shots on the road are 3-pointers, with the shot selection being much better for a poor shooting team at home (see our previous statistical analysis). Penn State is not a great perimeter team defensively — 11th in the conference during Big Ten play, according to KenPom. Perhaps the opportunities will be there for the Terps, but they have to be smart in their offensive approach.
3. How much will we see Don Carey? The graduate guard came to Maryland as a highly regarded 3-point sniper; Carey had a career 39.2% clip from deep at Georgetown, Siena and Mount St. Mary’s. It has been a tough season for Carey, who is averaging a career-low 6.8 points per game and shooting 29.8% on 3-point attempts. After playing just 11 minutes and going 0-for-4 from three in the first half against Michigan State, Carey was benched for the entirety of the second half. It remains to be seen whether there will be a change in Carey’s playing status moving forward, but it is something to ponder for a player who has started for the majority of the season.
“We actually talked about it,” Carey said Friday. “He was just trying to find us a different spark for our team.”
Willard also mentioned Friday that the decision to bench Carey in the second half against Michigan State was to give his group a “little bit of a boost.” He said that he is still a starter.