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No. 5 Maryland men’s basketball vs Harvard preview

The Terps take on the Crimson in the semifinals of the Orlando Invitational.

Eric Ayala, Maryland basketball, bench celebration, 2019-20 Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

ORLANDO, Fla. — It wasn’t without stress, but nevertheless, but No. 5 Maryland men’s basketball is through the first round of the Orlando Invitational.

The Terps trailed or were tied for over 30 minutes in the opening game of the tournament on Thursday morning, and they didn’t pull away for good until there was just 2:35 left. Anthony Cowan Jr. led the team with 30 points, setting a new career-high.

But the win over the Owls must be put in the rear view mirror, as the team is back in action less than 24 hours later against Harvard. It’s the first meeting between the programs in their history.

Friday’s game is scheduled to tip off at 11:30 a.m. ET, and it can be watched on ESPN2.

Harvard Crimson (5-2)

2018-19 record: 19-12 (10-4 Ivy League)

Head coach Tommy Amaker is in his 13th season with Harvard, taking the team to four NCAA Tournaments — with a pair of wins — in that span. His official title is ‘The Thomas G. Stemberg ‘71 Family Endowed Coach for Harvard Men’s Basketball,’ which is just fantastic. Prior to his arrival at Cambridge, Amaker led the programs at Seton Hall and Michigan. A Duke product, he both played and served as an assistant under Mike Krzyzewski.

Players to know

Bryce Aiken, senior guard, 6’0, 175 lbs, No. 11. Aiken has dealt with injuries his entire career — he’s yet to play a full season, averaging just over 19 games played. That trend carried over into his senior campaign, as he missed the first contests of the year. But since returning, Aiken has been nothing short of terrific, serving as the leader the Crimson need. In three games (two starts), he’s averaged 21.7 points per game on 40 percent shooting with 2.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.7 steals added in.

Chris Lewis, senior forward, 6’9, 235 lbs, No. 0. Lewis, like Aiken, is in his final go-round with the Crimson. He’s in his fourth straight year as a full-time starter, though he’s progressively taken a backseat in terms of scoring as the years go on. Through six appearances this season, Lewis is averaging 9.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.7 blocks, and he’s shooting a wildly efficient 61.5 percent from the floor.

Noah Kirkwood, sophomore guard, 6’7, 215 lbs, No. 10. Kirkwood doesn’t look the part of a leading facilitator at 6’7, but that’s exactly what he’s been so far for the Crimson. He’s first on the team with 4.0 assists per game — twice as much as the next leader, Aiken — and he is also third in scoring with 9.7 points. He’s been careless with the ball at times, as he’s averaging 2.3 turnovers, but with Aiken continuing to be a score-first point guard, Kirkwood will be tasked with working the ball through the offense.

Strength

Shooting. While Harvard’s offense isn’t the prettiest to watch (more on that later), it is pretty adept at making field goals. The Crimson currently shoot 44.6 percent from the floor — second-best in the Ivy League — and while their three-point shooting hasn’t been great on the season, their best shooter has missed more than half their games. With Aiken’s return, expect Harvard to only keep getting better from the field.

Weakness

Passing. With Aiken not contributing much in the way of passing at point guard, Harvard has had to find other ways of facilitating the basketball throughout its offense. Kirkwood has led the way in that department, but the result has been a team that doesn’t pick up many point-producing passes.

Harvard averages just 12.3 assists per game, which ranks third-worst in the Ivy League and outside the top-200 in the country. The Crimson also turn the ball over 14.7 times per game, giving them a 0.83 assist-to-turnover ratio, which ranks similarly.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland finally get off to a quick start? The Terps have played seven games, and they’ve trailed early on in every single one. For some reason, they don’t put it all together until late in the first half — or second half, in the case of the Temple game. At some point, digging itself a hole immediately will be too much for Maryland to overcome. Both teams will likely be tired after the quick turnaround, however, so a rapid start may not come against Harvard.

2. Will Bryce Aiken be contained? Maryland has faced some good teams to this point — Temple, George Mason and Rhode Island, specifically — but it hasn’t yet had to stop a game-wrecking offensive talent. Aiken won’t be the first dominant scorer the Terps face — Miles Powell and Cassius Winston are on the schedule, to name a few — and Friday will be a good test for how they handle such a task.

3. Who will — and when will they — step up for Maryland? For the first half of Maryland’s game against the Owls, it was the Cowan show. He carried that strong 20 minutes of play through the break, but in the second, Eric Ayala and Jalen Smith finally awoke. Cowan played almost 36 minutes, so he may have trouble carrying the team on his back once again. That means someone else — perhaps Ayala and/or Smith, maybe Aaron Wiggins or Darryl Morsell — might have to step up from a scoring standpoint.

Predictions

Vegas: Maryland -9.5, O/U 139.5 (as of Friday morning)

ESPN BPI: Maryland 73% chance to win

KenPom: Maryland 75, Harvard 66 (Maryland 79% chance to win)

Me: Maryland 77, Harvard 66