Maryland basketball plays Northwestern tonight at 7 p.m. on BTN. I’ve already previewed the matchup, but here’s Zach Pereles of InsideNU, SB Nation’s Northwestern blog, to help give us a more complete picture of the Wildcats.
Testudo Times: Northwestern is on pace to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in ever. What improvements did they make from last season, and what kind of expectations do you have for this team?
InsideNU: The biggest improvement by a long shot has been on the defensive end. Vic Law Jr. might be the best individual perimeter defender in the conference after missing all of last year with a torn labrum. Leading scorer Scottie Lindsey has improved drastically on both ends, but really it was on the defensive end that's been so impressive. Last year, he was disconnected and not focused on that end. So really, it's been the return of one wing player and the emergence of the other that's been the biggest difference.
TT: Scottie Lindsey isn't playing in this one. How's his absence affect this team, and how much does Bryant McIntosh have to do to pick up the pace? Is there anything else that has to change with Lindsey out?
IN: Offensively, the Wildcats simply don't move the ball nearly as well. It's more stagnated and depends much more on individuals winning one-on-one battles. It's not a look that the Wildcats want — they lost their first two games without Lindsey — but thanks to Bryant McIntosh it was enough for a huge win at Wisconsin. Generally, that has resulted in more turnovers and fewer assists, though. Defensively, you can't replace his length and athleticism. So there's a much bigger burden on McIntosh offensively, and defensively, the Wildcats have significantly less length. Also, it's worth mentioning that the rotation is essentially seven players now (maybe eight if you count a handful of minutes for freshman big Barret Benson). Isiah Brown, normally a sparkplug off the bench, started the first two games in Lindsey's absence, but Chris Collins plugged Nathan Taphorn in there instead against Wisconsin, and that worked reasonably well.
TT: Dererk Pardon has missed much of this season with an injury. How's he been in his return, and will he be prepared for Northwestern's postseason play?
IN: Pardon is a great rebounder, even though he's somewhat undersized at 6-foot-8. He anticipates the ball well and jumps well. He's active on both ends on the glass. The biggest thing about his injury was that it was to his thumb, so he was able to run and stay in shape and return to play big minutes as soon as he was cleared. Pardon is also an underrated and underused (in my opinion) offensive weapon. He's shown the ability to hit shots over both shoulders using both hands. He's a major cog in the team's defense and when he contributes offensively, this team can be tough to beat.
TT: Northwestern's defense has gone from No. 87 to No. 25 in KenPom's adjusted efficiency. What's been behind this change?
IN: When fully healthy, Northwestern is really good defensively. Opponents struggle with the length of its backcourt and the feistiness of the frontcourt. Sanjay Lumpkin, often labeled a "glue guy," is a great team defender and can defend any position one through five. As mentioned above, though, Law Jr.'s return has been the biggest factor. He's shut down Peter Jok, Malcolm Hill, Bronson Koenig and others.
TT: Who's someone on Northwestern who might be unfamiliar to Maryland fans, but could play a big role on Wednesday?
IN: I'm going to keep it with Lumpkin. He's a fifth-year senior who's been here through two coaches and the ups and downs of the early Collins years. Assuming he stays healthy, he's going to end up in the top five in program history in games played and games started. Zeroing in on this game, I'm intrigued by who he is going to match up with. Lumpkin has guarded guards, forwards and even at time centers such as Wisconsin's Ethan Happ and Wake Forest's John Collins. He's only 6-foot-6 but he's really strong and smart. I think he'll draw Justin Jackson to start, but honestly I'm not too sure. Offensively, he's efficient but has a very low usage rate. Whatever he adds — for example, a dagger corner three against Wisconsin — is a huge bonus. Plus, he did this to Thomas Bryant.
TT: OK, so who's gonna win and why?
IN: Two of Northwestern's players — McIntosh and Law Jr. — went essentially all 40 (Law Jr. fouled out with under a minute left) against Wisconsin Sunday night, so the fatigue factor could be there for the team's two most important players. Still, Northwestern's given Maryland some great contests over the past couple of seasons, and this season is shaping up to be special. But Maryland has a little too much offensive talent at the guard and wing spots, where the Wildcats are currently lacking depth. Terrapins by two, 68-66.