Maryland basketball’s NCAA Tournament run, however long it will last, starts Thursday night against Xavier in Orlando, Florida. The Terps left for the game Monday night to ensure they wouldn’t get caught in a storm, and have been enjoying the warm weather.
Their opponent enters the NCAA Tournament in a weird spot. Xavier lost point guard Edmond Sumner, its leading scorer, to an ACL injury in late January. That was just after Myles Davis left the team. Life has been rough for the Musketeers since. A six-game losing streak came a little over a week after Sumner’s injury, but they beat Butler and lost narrowly to Creighton in the Big East Tournament.
Thursday’s game tips off at 6:50 p.m. on TNT, with Ian Eagle and Steve Lavin on the call and Evan Washburn serving as the sideline reporter.
Xavier Musketeers (21-13, 9-9 Big East)
Coach: Chris Mack, who’s 183-90 in his eight years as Xavier’s head coach.
KenPom ranking: 40 (Maryland is 45)
Last NCAA Tournament appearance: Lost to Wisconsin in the Second Round last year.
Players to know
Trevon Bluiett, guard, junior, 6’6/195, No. 5. Bluiett is on Maryland’s radar, and for good reason. With Sumner out, he’s Xavier’s best scorer, pouring in 18 points per game on 44 percent shooting. He also averages 5.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.
JP Macura, guard, junior, 6’5/203, No. 55. Macura is Xavier’s second-best offensive threat, scoring 15 points per game on 42 percent from the field. He averages 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists, and also shoots 80 percent from the free throw line.
RaShid Gaston, forward, senior, 6’9/239, No. 35. Gaston is the most involved of the team’s seniors. He’s a graduate transfer from Norfolk State, and is averaging eight points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Rebounding. The Musketeers are 26th in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, per KenPom’s advanced metrics. This is almost an expected feat, given the fact that they also rank eighth in KenPom’s average height. They only play three rotation players who are 6’9 or higher, but they get it done.
Getting fouled. Xavier is 39th in the country in free throw attempts per field goal attempt, which measures how much of a team’s offense is accounted for by free throws. The problem here as that once they get there, the Musketeers only shoot 69 percent. Still, against a Maryland team that can’t afford to have center Damonte Dodd get into foul trouble, this could come into play.
Post defense. For a team with such a high average height, Xavier’s opponents’ two-point shooting percentage is way worse than its opponents’ three-point shooting percentage. The Musketeers’ block percentage is 11 percent, which ranks 290th in the country. Blocks certainly aren’t the be-all and end-all of interior defense, but such a low rating there is telling. However, Maryland’s relative lack of post offense might render this weakness irrelevant.
Kenpom’s prediction: Xavier 73, Maryland 72. Terps have a 49 percent chance of winning.
Ryan’s prediction: Maryland 78, Xavier 69.