Maryland men’s basketball returns from Thanksgiving break on Friday to welcome Marshall to the Xfinity Center. The Thundering Herd represent the toughest challenge the Terps have faced this young season.
Both teams enter the matchup undefeated, though Maryland (5-0) has one more win in an additional outing. Each enters Friday with mutual wins over Hofstra, Mount St. Mary’s and North Carolina A&T. It’s the fifth straight season Mark Turgeon’s team has started 5-0, while a win over Maryland would be just the third 5-0 start since the 1996-97 season for Marshall.
The Terps lead the all-time series 3-2, with wins in the last three matchups. The last time these two teams faced off in 2015, Maryland walked away with an 87-67 win. Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks scored 11 points each as freshmen in that game, while Ivan Bender and Andrew Terrell are the only Terps still on the team from that matchup.
Maryland will try to stop the Thundering Herd in College Park at 6 p.m. ET on BTN.
Marshall Thundering Herd (4-0)
2017-18 record: 25-11, 12-6 Conference USA
Head coach Dan D’Antoni is the older brother of Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, and came to the college ranks to coach his alma mater in 2014 after nine seasons as an NBA assistant. The elder D’Antoni had one under-.500 season (11-21, 7-11 C-USA) his first year before stringing together three straight winning years. He’s coming off helming the Thundering Herd to a conference tournament crown and an NCAA Tournament win as a No. 13 seed.
Players to know
Jon Elmore, senior, guard, 6’3/187, No. 33. Elmore exploded onto the scene during last year’s March Madness, dropping 27 points in an upset of Wichita State in the first round. Elmore tested the draft process, but returned to lead the Herd again after averaging 22.7 points, 6.7 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game and earning his second straight first team C-USA nod. He’s averaging 23 points, six assists and 5.3 rebounds through four games.
C.J. Burks, senior, guard, 6’4/185, No. 14. Elmore is Marshall’s top offensive option, but Burks is 1a. The fellow senior guard is averaging 21 points, 3.0 steals and 3.8 assists per game, while shooting 62.3 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from deep. He’s currently sustaining the huge jump he made last season, where he doubled his point production from the year before.
Darius George, sophomore, forward, 6’7/200, No. 21. Outside of Elmore and Burks, George is one of three Marshall players to average at least eight points a game. He’s the highest scoring of that secondary trio, averaging 9.3 points, and is third on the team with 4.5 rebounds per game.
Forcing turnovers. Burks’ habits as a pickpocket help, but forcing turnovers is something the Herd do as a team, and do effectively. Marshall has a top-15 steal rate and opponent turnover rate, according to KenPom, coming up with steals on 13 percent of defensive possessions and having 25.7 percent of its opponents’ possessions end in turnovers.
Defensive rebounding. The Herd have allowed offensive rebounds on 33.3 percent of misses, which ranks among the bottom 50 schools in the nation. Meanwhile, they rank in the bottom third of schools, in terms of total defensive rebounds. The team has just two players above 6’8, and the Herd will have trouble on the boards.
Three things to watch
1. How does Maryland slow down Marshall's guards? Elmore and Burks are going to be an issue for the Terps. Each are averaging over 20 points a game and are elite scorers. Drop them in almost any league and they’d be all-conference candidates. Maryland’s backcourt will have their hands full, regardless of who draws the assignment.
“They have two all-league players that could probably be all-league players in the Big Ten,” Turgeon said on Wednesday conference call with reporters. “Elmore and Burks are terrific, and they play free and they play loose, so they create a lot of problems.”
2. Which bench players step up for Maryland? Turgeon had been playing with his starting lineup, but seemed to settle on one last game. Of course he could switch it up again, but who steps up off the bench is more important than who comes off it. Against Mount St. Mary’s it was Serrel Smith Jr. with 13 points, along with Aaron Wiggins with another eight points off the pine. Wiggins has become like a sixth starter, but Smith Jr. is still finding his footing.
“I think I know how we’re going to try to play,” Turgeon said. “Now, it’s not always going to work like a cookie cutter type deal, but I think as a staff we feel pretty good about where we are with our team and who our guys are going to be.”
3. Will Maryland’s perimeter defense be up to snuff? The Terps have been solid at running teams off the perimeter or forcing bad deep looks this season, holding opponents to a .298 clip from beyond the arc on the season. The Herd will test Maryland’s will and discipline on defense, and have hit 37.9 percent of its long-ball attempts this season, a top-100 rate.
“We worked harder than maybe we had in the last two years at guarding the basketball,” Turgeon said. “I think our length helps us, we have some really good length out there. We have been pretty good against the three, but Marshall has guys that will shoot it from eight or 10 feet behind the three and make it. So it’ll be a big challenge for our perimeter defense.”