The Maryland men's basketball team struggled against Michigan State when the team traveled to East Lansing in January, and the Terps ultimately couldn't keep up in a nine-point loss. They'll face the Spartans again on Saturday, this time in a Big Ten semifinal with a championship berth on the line.
In the first game, much of the damage for the Spartans came from their two leading scorers. Big Ten Player of the Year Denzel Valentine nearly triple-doubled with 19 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, and guard Bryn Forbes dropped 25 points and sunk four three-pointers. Maryland's defense has been generally good for most of the season, but a subpar outing guarding the ball like the Terps did on the Cornhuskers on Friday won't be enough.
"Denzel Valentine is definitely their guy," Maryland guard Rasheed Sulaimon said Friday night. "But Bryn Forbes is one of the guys that make them go. And he's always moving. He's a tough guy to guard. He'll run off four or five off-ball screens at a time at some points. He's got a quick release and he's accurate.
"I'm not sure who's going to have the matchup yet whether it's going to be me or someone else," Sulaimon went on. " If I am on him, I've got to make it hard for him. With great scorers like Bryn Forbes, I think the key is to get to his legs. I have to be on my horse. I have to be in great shape and outwork him. I'm looking forward to the battle."
Forbes won round one, as Sulaimon shot just 2-for-11 from the field, but now he'll get a rematch in one of the biggest games of the season except this time on a neutral court.
If the Terps can contain Forbes – or at least keep him under 20 points and away from the three-point line – they'll have a real shot at beating the conference's best team to face a weaker foe in the conference championship.
Valentine will stilll be in their way, though.
"We all have to guard him one through five," said Damonte Dodd. "When I say that, I mean showing hard and just being alert and knowing where he is in transition. People know him as a scorer, but he's a great passer, a great finisher, he does everything for the team. So we have to be alert and know where he is at all times."
Valentine has been held under 10 points once and has scored more than 20 on 12 occasions. He's dished double-digit assists seven times, triple-doubled twice, is shooting for a 61.6 true shooting percentage and holds a win shares-per-40-minutes output nearly three times the league average. He absolutely does it all.
"As much as he can score the ball I think he's even a better passer," said Sulaimon. "I'm not a coach, but it's almost to the point where you have to let him get his and try to eliminate everyone else. Eliminate the big passes that he does. He's the type of player that makes everyone else on their team better."
It's a strikingly similar plan to to what Spartans guard Eron Harris has in mind to contain Melo Trimble.