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Maryland basketball vs. No. 1 Michigan State preview

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The Terps’ first ranked opponent of the season is the new No. 1.

NCAA Basketball: Savannah State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland men’s basketball has just a day’s rest after beating Penn State before hitting the road again. The Terps’ next Big Ten test lies in the form of newly-minted No. 1 Michigan State.

Maryland started life without Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender with a 75-69 win against the Nittany Lions, on the back of 18 points, four rebounds and four assists by Anthony Cowan and a 17-point, 11-rebound double-double from Bruno Fernando.

This is Maryland’s 38th time facing the top-ranked team in the country. The Terps have won one of their last five such matchups and are 10-27 all-time, going back to 1956. The last time the Terps toppled an AP No. 1 was Jan. 19, 2008, when Maryland beat North Carolina, 82-80, at home.

Michigan State is on a 13-game winning streak since a Nov. 14 loss to Duke. Since then, the Spartans have won the PK80 against reigning national champions North Carolina, and beat Notre Dame, along with Rutgers and Nebraska during their early December two-game conference appetizer.

“I’ve got a group that’s willing and even if Michigan State played three nights in a row, they didn’t play us,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said after the Penn State win. “It doesn’t matter, they’re a heck of a team, so we’ve got to be ready. They’re playing at a high level right now, and we’ve got to figure out a way to keep the game at a pace we’re comfortable with.”

The Terps are in East Lansing, Michigan, on Thursday, Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. ET on FS1.

No. 1 Michigan State Spartans (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten)

2016-17 record: 20-15, 10-8

Head coach Tom Izzo has one of his most talented teams ever, all while starting four sophomores and a freshman. After returning much of his squad that finished fifth in the Big Ten last season before dropping to then-No. 1 Kansas in the second round of the Tournament, Izzo could be en route to his eighth Final Four. He’s compiled a 558-221 record in his 23 seasons at Michigan State, winning seven Big Ten regular season titles and five conference tournament trophies to go with his 2000 National Championship.

Players to know

Miles Bridges, sophomore, 6’7/230, No. 22. Bridges easily could’ve been a lottery pick last spring after running away with Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Instead, he came back to lead the Spartans in points and rebounds per game, averaging 17 points and 7.7 rebounds a night. He’s stayed consistent this season and is still a legit lottery prospect.

Nick Ward, sophomore, 6’8/250, No. 44. While taking roughly the same amount of shots in about a minute less per game, Ward has upped his scoring, shooting percentage and rebounding average. He’s the Spartans’ second-leading scorer and rebounder, giving them 15.4 points and 7.5 rebounds a contest, while shooting 72.1 percent from the field. He has the best offensive rebound percentage in the nation and is an improved rim-runner in his second year.

Jaren Jackson, freshman, 6’11/242, No. 2. The former five-star recruit was the No. 8 ranked player in the Class of 2017 and No. 5 power forward in the nation, per the 247Sports Composite. He’s acclimated to the college game easily, averaging 10.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks through 15 games.

Cassius Winston, sophomore, 6’/185, No. 5. The Detroit native has made the most of his starting role, doubling his point output while also upping his assists and three-point percentage. Winston puts up 13.1 points and leads Michigan State with 7.1 assists a night; he’s also top-five in the nation in true shooting percentage and assist rate.

Joshua Langford, sophomore, 6’5/210, No. 1. Langford is another sophomore who has doubled his scoring in year two. After averaging 6.9 points a game last season, he’s up to 14.1 points a night this season. Langford’s also shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 45.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Strengths

Almost everything. The Spartans are the top team in the country in assists per game and opponent field goal percentage, and are also top-five in field goal percentage, block percentage, defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage and rebounding percentage. That’s not to mention the Spartans are top-20 in offensive efficiency, points per game and three-point percentage. There’s a reason Izzo’s team is ranked No. 1.

Weaknesses

Turnovers. The lone chink in the Spartans’ armor seems to be turnovers. With Maryland, that’s like the pot calling the kettle black, but you take what you get. Michigan State has five games with over 15 turnovers, including 21 its last time out against Savannah State on New Year’s Eve. The Spartans also don’t force a lot of turnovers and only forces turnovers on seven percent of defensive possessions, according to KenPom.

Three things to watch

  1. Maryland’s first ranked matchup. Maryland hasn’t faced a ranked team all season, and the newest No. 1 will be its first top-25 matchup. The Terps were able to grind out a win to re-open conference play, but the Spartans are a whole different beast. It’s been nearly a decade since Maryland beat the nation’s top team, and it will take an all-out effort from a shorthanded Terps squad to keep this one competitive.
  2. Can the Terps keep the turnovers down? Maryland had a season-low five turnovers against the Nittany Lions and will need to keep the turnovers down to exploit Michigan State’s lone weakness. Cowan controlled the pace for 40 minutes against Penn State and only had two turnovers. He may need to play another full game to keep Maryland’s offense on track.
  3. Who gives Maryland a spark? Against Penn State, Cowan kept Maryland alive in the first half, and Fernando took over the second half en route to his first career double-double. The Terps have a very small margin for error, and someone needs to have a big game if Maryland’s going to have any chance.

Prediction

Kenpom: Michigan State, 73-62

Me: Michigan State, 73-64