Maryland men’s basketball will return to the Xfinity Center on Wednesday with a ranking next to its name for the first time all season. No. 4 Virginia will come to College Park as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge to make the Terps defend it.
Maryland jumped into the rankings at No. 24 after a 104-67 curb-stomping of Marshall, who won an NCAA Tournament game last season. The Terps have five players averaging double-digit points and the fourth-highest rebounding margin in the nation at plus-15.2. Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon is also hoping the worst of his team’s shooting woes are behind it; Maryland hit 9 of 16 triples against Marshall after starting the season nearly-frigid from distance.
Virginia is coming off a Battle 4 Atlantis crown after taking down No. 22 Wisconsin in the championship game. The Cavaliers return two starters and the top reserve from a team that was a game from going undefeated in the ACC in 2017-18. Virginia caught a bad break heading into the tournament, losing a key player before becoming the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in an upset by UMBC.
This is the second time the Terps have faced the Cavaliers in the interconference challenge since switching affiliations. The meeting in the 2014-15 season was also a home top-25 matchup, and Maryland’s first in the Big Ten, when No. 7 Virginia topped the No. 21 Terps 76-65. No player who played in that game is still active.
The Terps will tip off against the Cavaliers at 7:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, airing on ESPN.
No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers (6-0)
2017-18 record: 31-3, 17-1 ACC
Head coach Tony Bennett is in his 10th season as Virginia’s head coach, compiling a 225-86 record, three ACC regular-season titles and two conference tournament crowns in that span. Virginia won the conference regular-season and tournament crowns last year
Players to know
De’Andre Hunter, sophomore, forward, 6’7/212, No. 12. Hunter missed the now-famous upset with a broken wrist, but has returned to take on the mantle of Virginia’s top option. Also a plus defender, Hunter is averaging team-highs of 16.8 points and 6.3 rebounds, along with 2.3 assists per game and a 46.7 percent three-point clip.
Ty Jerome, junior, guard, 6’5/192, No. 11. One of two returning starters for the Cavaliers, Jerome is the team’s second-leading scorer and top playmaker with averages of 14 points and 4.5 assists per game. He’s a multi-faceted player, adding 3.2 rebounds and two steals a night while shooting 46.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Kyle Guy, junior, guard, 6’3/165, No. 5. The junior is another one of the “movers” in Bennett’s offense tasked with scoring, averaging 12.2 points along with 3.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. He’s another marksman for the Cavaliers as well, hitting at a 37.1 percent rate on 5.8 attempts per night.
Scoring defense. Bennett’s team currently allows the second-fewest points in the nation, giving up just 49.3 points on average. Virginia does so with a team committed to its head coach’s signature pack-line defense. The Cavaliers are the second-most efficient defense in the nation, according to KenPom, and they give teams issues both on the perimeter and inside. Opponents are shooting just 27.7 percent from long range and 46.6 percent from inside the arc, both top-100 marks for opposing shooting percentages.
Shot blocking. To be clear, this is nitpicking. While the Cavaliers have an elite scoring defense, they don’t have a lot of players that are effective shot-blockers. Virginia makes up for this with stellar team defense and rotations to bother shots, but this is an instance where Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith’s height could give Maryland an advantage inside. Also, to reiterate, this is being extremely picky, considering Virginia’s block rate of 9 percent is just a smidge below the national average, according to KenPom.
Three things to watch
1. What pace is the game played at? Virginia plays at the slowest pace in college basketball, according to Kenpom’s adjusted tempo stat. Maryland’s plays just a little faster than the average team, clocking in with the 143-fastest tempo. Bennett’s squads typically get you to play at their pace with the patented pack-line defense and a methodical offense.
2. How does Maryland’s halfcourt offense hold up against the pack-line defense? This will go along with the pace of the game, to an extent, but Maryland will have to make the most of its opportunities, regardless. Expect double teams for Bruno Fernando and potentially Jalen Smith, similar to how the Cavaliers played Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Each will have to make sure to find the open man when doubled and finish in one-on-one opportunities. Crucially, the guards will have to make their shots on the kickouts.
3. Can the Terps take away Virginia’s top options? Key to Maryland’s dismantling of Marshall was its ability to shut down the Herd’s top two offensive threats. Virginia has three primary scorers, as well as freshman guard Kihei Clark to add another playmaking option. While transition defense was the key to stopping Marshall, the Terps will have to defend for the entire shot clock against the Cavaliers.