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Maryland basketball vs. Penn State preview

The No. 24 Terps open conference play at home against the Nittany Lions.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia Tech at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

After just seven nonconference games, Maryland basketball dips into Big Ten play Saturday as the Terps host Penn State.

For the second straight season, Big Ten teams will play two league contests in early December. Last year, it was because the conference held its tournament a week early in Madison Square Garden. This time, it’s because the Big Ten has expanded ts schedule from 18 to 20 games.

Maryland comes in 6-1 and ranked 24th in the country, but will probably need a convincing win to remain in the rankings. The Terps lost to No. 4 Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday, although they threatened to erase a 17-point deficit and ultimately lost by five to a team that committed just two turnovers all night.

Penn State is 4-2 with close home losses to DePaul and Bradley on its schedule, but the Nittany Lions are coming off an upset of No. 13 Virginia Tech on Thursday. Pat Chambers’ team won the NIT last season, but lost star guard Tony Carr to the pros.

Saturday’s game will tip off at 5 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network. It was originally scheduled for 1 p.m., but flipped time slots with Northwestern-Indiana as the Wildcats earned a spot in the Big Ten football championship game.

Penn State Nittany Lions (4-2)

2017-18 record: 26-13, 9-9 Big Ten, NIT champions

Head coach Pat Chambers is in his eighth season at Penn State, holding a 117-124 record. Last year was his first 20-win season and first NIT appearance in State College; the Nittany Lions have not made an NCAA Tournament in his tenure, and last year was just his second winning season. But recent recruiting successes have made the team much more formidable over the last couple years.

Players to know

Lamar Stevens, junior, forward, 6’8/230, No. 11. It’s been a breakout year for Stevens, who’s averaging 23 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. While it’s still November, KenPom has him seventh for National Player of the Year. Stevens averaged 15.5 points and 5.9 boards last year, but has taken his game up a level with Carr gone. He’s scored exactly 25 points three times, along with outputs of 27, 22 and 14 (although the lowest was from this week).

Josh Reaves, senior, guard, 6’5/214, No. 23. Reaves is one of the best defenders in the Big Ten, and his offense has just about caught up. He’s averaging 10.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, and his shooting percentages of .512/.381/.833 are all career highs. However, he’s been quiet in the last two games, scoring just 10 total points.

Mike Watkins, RS junior, forward, 6’9/254, No. 24. Watkins was held out for the first five games of the season by the Penn State athletic department until he made “satisfactory progress toward resolving off-court matters.” He was charged with disorderly conduct for engaging in a fight in September and revealed in October that he was battling mental health issues. But the power forward returned to action Tuesday, recording two points and seven rebounds off the bench and providing a unique defensive presence in the upset of Virginia Tech. Watkins averaged 12.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks last season.

The Nittany Lions have also gotten impact performances from two freshman guards early this year, as Rasir Bolton and Myles Dread are averaging 10.3 and 9.8 points per game, respectively.


Defense. Penn State’s defensive efficiency is No. 9 in the nation on KenPom, and the team allows just 64.2 points per game and forces turnovers on 21.2 percent of possessions. Opponents have struggled shooting (42 percent from the floor, 27.3 percent from deep), and Watkins’ return takes the rim protection up a level. It’s not Virginia’s defense, but it’s well above-average.


Shooting. Penn State’s effective field goal percentage of 49.6 percent is 216th in the country, and the team shoots just 42.5 percent from the floor and 32.1 percent on threes. But it’s still early, and the low percentages are somewhat due to high volume (Penn State has shot 156 threes in six contests). But if Maryland’s defense can force difficult shots, the Nittany Lions can go cold almost like Marshall did.

Three things to watch

1. How does Maryland respond? The Terps gave Virginia all they had, but because of the importance of the Big Ten opener, they had to quickly turn around and prepare even more extensively for Penn State. “I guess we’re a little bit more locked in [entering conference play],” sophomore guard Darryl Morsell told reporters Friday. “Scouts are more in-depth and stuff like that.” Maryland’s record in these next two games will linger as its conference record for nearly a month, so it’ll be important to get off on the right foot.

2. What happens in the low post? Watkins is somewhat of an unknown commodity at this point, but at his best, he’s one of the premier big men in the league. Bruno Fernando has dominated everyone he’s gone against this year, averaging 15.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, but hasn’t faced a defender of Watkins’ caliber. It’ll also be interesting to monitor the matchup of Jalen Smith and Stevens, as Smith is still adjusting to guarding more athletic players in college and Stevens is one of the toughest assignments he’ll draw all season.

3. How deep is Maryland’s rotation? The gap between the top six and the rest of the bench has fluctuated all year; against Virginia, those six accounted for 188 of the team’s 200 minutes. Serrel Smith Jr. was productive in eight minutes, and Turgeon is hopeful he and Ricky Lindo can solidify the top eight. “We have a good idea of the way we want to play, but it never works exactly the way you want it to,” Turgeon said. “We have a pretty good feel, but there’s some other guys that might be able to step in if other guys aren’t playing well.”


KenPom: Maryland 72, Penn State 68

Me: Maryland 75, Penn State 66