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Maryland vs. Penn State preview: Terps start Big Ten schedule with Nittany Lions

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The Nittany Lions are one of the worst teams in the league, but they could be competitive with the Terps.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten basketball is finally here, as Maryland hosts Penn State for a game at Xfinity Center on Wednesday night.

The No. 4 Terps enter at 11-1, having wrapped the main portion of their non-conference schedule with a 20-point win against Marshall on Sunday evening. The Nittany Lions are 9-4 and will be playing after a full week of rest, most recently having beaten Kent State last Wednesday.

Penn State will look a lot different than the team Maryland beat twice last season, primarily because leading scorer and all-everything veteran guard D.J. Newbill has finally left State College. Newbill's fingerprints were all over Penn State's offense last year, and his absence has forced the team to rely on a wider array of contributors. It's been an adjustment.

Tipoff is at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, and the game will be televised on ESPN2. Stream it at WatchESPN.

Penn State Nittany Lions (9-4, 0-0 Big Ten)

The coach

Pat Chambers, who's 65-79 in five seasons at Penn State and 107-107 for his career. Chambers was the head coach at Boston University for two seasons before taking the Penn State job in 2011.

Players to know

Brandon Taylor, senior, forward, 6'6, No. 10. In Penn State's post-Newbill world, Taylor has emerged as the leading man. His 16.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game are both team highs, and he's a good player even though his strong raw numbers belie mediocre rate stats, such as his 48.8 effective field goal percentage.

Shep Garner, sophomore, guard, 6'1, No. 33. Garner's had a nice season, scoring 14.7 points per game and doing it in a more efficient fashion than leading scorer Taylor. He's shooting 41 percent on 3-pointers, which is the best on Penn State's roster among all players who shoot them regularly.

Josh Reaves, freshman, guard, 6'3, No. 23. Reaves is one of Penn State's best basketball recruits ever, a four-star prospect out of famous Oak Hill Academy and rated the No. 33 shooting guard in this year's class on the 247Sports Composite. He's going to be good, and if Penn State is ever good, he'll be a major reason why. But it hasn't happened just yet, as Reaves is averaging 7 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists and is an abysmal 3 of 28 on 3-pointers.

Payton Banks, sophomore, forward, 6'6, No. 0. Banks gets a lot of minutes, and he's managed a 12-point, 5-rebound average thus far. He's just a 26 percent shooter from deep, but he's better than 50 percent inside the arc and could find some buckets if he's not being guarded by Maryland's Rasheed Sulaimon.

Strengths

Interior defense and shot blocking. The Lions only allow opponents to shoot 42 percent on 2-point shots, which is the 27th-best figure in the country. They block 14.2 percent of all opposing shots, which is 29th, buoyed by 7'1 center Jordan Dickerson, whose 12.5 percent block rate is 13th-best in the nation. Maryland's 61 percent 2-point shooting is the second-highest rate in the land and probably the Terps' best strength. Given that, Penn State's inside defending is the biggest reason to think the Nittany Lions might be able to stay close against them.

Weaknesses

Shooting. Penn State's team effective field goal rate, which weights 3-pointers as one-third more valuable than 2-pointers, is an unsightly 46.5 percent. The Lions make just 30.8 percent of their threes and 46.7 percent of their twos, neither of those being at all good for a power-conference team.

Fouling. The Lions give up a free throws-per-field goal attempt rate of 0.423, meaning teams get 42 foul shots per every 100 shots they try from the field against Penn State – or about 21 per every 50. Given Maryland's foul-drawing acumen, it seems likely the Terps will spend a lot of time at the free throw line.

Predictions

KenPom's prediction: Maryland, 73-59. The Terps have a 92 percent chance to win.

Alex's prediction: Maryland, 68-58.