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Maryland vs. Northwestern preview: Terps visit dangerous Wildcats team

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This isn't the same Northwestern mediocrity you've come to expect.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Northwestern basketball program has never been good. The Wildcats have made as many NCAA Tournaments as your high school team, and they've languished at or near the bottom of the Big Ten for most of their history.

No more. Northwestern isn't elite, but the Wildcats are a formidable opponent and one of the better teams in the Big Ten. They'll host Maryland on Saturday night in what could turn out to be one of Maryland's most challenging games of the season. That's partially because there are no gimmes on the road in the Big Ten and partially because the Wildcats, at long last, have a handful of very good players. The game tips at 8 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network and BTN2Go.

Northwestern Wildcats (13-1, 1-0 Big Ten)

The coach

Chris Collins, in his third year. He is 42-37. He was an all-ACC performer at Duke, graduating in 1996.

Players to know

Bryant McIntosh, sophomore, guard, 6'3, No. 30. McIntosh lost the spotlight last season to fellow freshman guards D'Angelo Russell, Melo Trimble and James Blackmon Jr., but he was quietly one of the better rookies in the country. He's built on that this year, averaging 15 points and 7 assists as Collins's backcourt general. He's an excellent shooter, especially from the foul line (87 percent) and the 3-point line (43 percent).

Dererk Pardon, freshman, center, 6'8, No. 5. This is quite a story. Pardon was a fairly run-of-the-mill three-star recruit in this year's – err, last year's – class, and Northwestern initially tried to redshirt him. But an injury to starting center Alex Olah (who won't face Maryland) brought Pardon onto the court, and he went ahead and dropped 28 points and 12 boards on Nebraska in a Big Ten-opening win on Wednesday. He's only played two games, but Pardon may well be tremendous.

Tre Demps, senior, guard, 6'3, No. 14. Maryland fans might recall Demps as the Wildcat who hit a brilliant fallaway jumper over Dez Wells in the final seconds of last year's Terps-Cats game, before Wells counterpunched and Maryland beat the buzzer to cap a massive late comeback. Demps is a good player, and he's averaging a well-rounded 15 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in his final season. He's also steady defender who practically never fouls.

Sanjay Lumpkin, junior, forward, 6'6, No. 34. Lumpkin is an efficient scorer, shooting better than 60 percent on twos and 40 percent on threes. He doesn't shoot a ton, though, and averages 5 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists.

Strengths

Shooting and scoring. The Wildcats are eighth in the country in effective field goal percentage (57.3) and 21st in adjusted offensive efficiency (1.132 points per possession.) Of the 10 regular rotation players Maryland should expect to see on Saturday, all but one has an offensive rating of 112 or higher, with 100 being a rough baseline for quality offensive performance. This is a deep team that doesn't waste a lot of shots.

Interior defense. Northwestern allows teams to score on just 40.7 percent of their 2-point shots. That's surely going to be harmed with 7-footer Olah not in the lineup, but it's nonetheless a helpful foil against Maryland's frontline of Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone.

Weaknesses

Getting to the line. This isn't a team that shoots many free throws. The Cats are 275th in the country in free throw frequency, taking 31 foul shots per every 100 field goal attempts. They win by shooting from the field, not the line.

Forcing turnovers. For an occasionally turnover-challenged Maryland team, the Wildcats might be a nice change of pace. They only create turnovers on 15.6 percent of their defensive possessions, and they only get steals on about 6 percent. Maryland could use to take care of the ball during its time in Evanston.

Predictions

KenPom's prediction: Maryland, 69-68. The Terps have a 50 percent chance to win.

Alex's prediction: Northwestern, 71-70.