It's game day. The Maryland men's basketball team faces Kansas Thursday night in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, giving the Terps a chance to advance to their first Elite Eight since they won a national championship in 2002. It could be the last collegiate game for Maryland's entire starting lineup – or, it couldn't be.
The Terps are underdogs, and with good reason. Kansas is the tournament's top overall seed. Despite a prediction around these parts this week, if you play the math straight, Maryland isn't likely to win. Ken Pomeroy projects Kansas to win 76-70, with a 73 percent chance of the Jayhawks advancing. For Maryland, it's going to be a hard slog.
But the Terps could certainly win. If they do, it'll be their biggest win in 14 years. Here's what will have to happen:
1. Melo Trimble needs to play his best game
It's exceptionally hard to imagine a scenario in which Trimble struggles and Maryland beats the best team in the country. The Terps came close to doing that a few weeks ago against Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament, when Trimble went 2-of-15 from the field but the Terps still had a chance in the game's final seconds. Don't bank on Maryland having much of a shot against Kansas, though, if Trimble isn't great. It's in some senses a favorable matchup, and he has to shine.
This doesn't mean Trimble needs to score the most points of his career or dish the most assists. It means he needs to play the sharpest, smartest game he has in his arsenal, and he needs to be in a shot-making groove or know when to stop forcing them if he isn't. That's what Trimble looks like when he's at his best.
2. Robert Carter Jr. needs to make Perry Ellis work for his points
Maybe Jake Layman or Damonte Dodd will help him at points, but Carter has a massively hard assignment in this game. He's got to deal with Kansas' Perry Ellis, the 6'8 power forward who gets 17 points and six rebounds per game for the Jayhawks. Ellis is going to get his. In his last seven games, his lowest scoring output is 17 points.
What Carter must do is force Ellis to work for every point he gets. If Ellis gets, say, 27 points on 11-of-28 shooting – his total in that thrilling triple-overtime game against Oklahoma in January – that's just fine. Make him labor. But if Ellis is 9-of-12 for 21 points and filling the basket with efficiency, it's going to be really hard for Maryland to make those points up elsewhere. Ellis will have a night, but Carter needs to make it a hard one.
3. Jake Layman has to stick with Wayne Selden
This is a wildcard matchup on a tale of the tape full of interesting ones. Selden has a higher profile than Layman, but the players' statistics make it pretty clear he's not a better player. Layman has better shooting splits and a higher offensive efficiency rating, and a slightly better win share contribution. He gets more rebounds, and beyond that, he's a longer and more versatile defender. Selden is faster, but he's also shorter and not appreciably more athletic. Layman needs to keep up with Kansas' 6'5 guard, who will probably spend a lot of time matched up on him.
Layman has held some of the country's best players to really lousy games this season, at least by their standards. He dominated Jarrod Uthoff of Iowa, and he did the best job anyone could possibly do in the time he spent on Denzel Valentine of Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament. (Rasheed Sulaimon worked on him, too.) It'll be a huge help to Maryland if Layman can neutralize Selden. It's within his ability to do so, as long as Layman is ready to run.
4. Mark Turgeon and his players need to play it cool
If you polled people around the sport and asked who the best coach in this game was, Bill Self would correctly and overwhelmingly win. That's not a knock on Turgeon. Self is a national champion coach who's been in the business of contending for titles and going deep into tournaments for over a decade now.
How cool Turgeon plays it – and, more importantly, how cool he keeps his players in what could be an unfriendly environment – will go a long way toward Maryland's success or failure. If the Terps lose their composure for even a second, that could mean a 7-0 run for Kansas, and that could decide the game.
The game won't be as simple as Maryland doing these things right.
But if the Terps can hit on these points, they'll have a shot. If they can do some but not all, they might still have a shot at the end, but their margin for error won't be nearly as big as what's on the line.