The Maryland men's basketball team hosts Iowa on Thursday night. It's going to be good.
The Terrapins and Hawkeyes, on paper, are about to play the Big Ten's premier game of this season. It pits an emergent, elite Iowa team that's steamrolled almost its entire schedule against a flawed but outrageously talented Maryland team that hasn't lost at Xfinity Center since Dec. 3, 2014 – almost 14 months ago. Against Iowa, Maryland's 24-game home winning streak is very much on the line.
The Hawkeyes beat Purdue on Sunday, 83-71, while Maryland lost on Saturday at Michigan State. The Hawkeyes are 7-0 in the Big Ten to Maryland's 6-2, so Thursday's 7 p.m. EST game has major seeding ramifications. According to the channel's listings, the game is on ESPN.
Let's meet the opposition.
Iowa Hawkeyes (16-3, 7-0 Big Ten)
Fran McCaffery is 112-78 at Iowa and 363-255 for his career. He's in his sixth season at Iowa and has also done stints at Lehigh, North Carolina-Greensboro and Siena.
Players to know
Jarrod Uthoff, senior, forward, 6'9, No. 20. Uthoff has emerged as the best player in the Big Ten and a bona-fide national player of the year candidate. He averages 19 points and 6 rebounds, and he's a major inside-and-out threat on offense as well as a knock-down foul shooter. Nobody's quite been able to guard him, and he'll be more than a handful for whichever Terrapin – probably Jake Layman – draws his unfortunate assignment.
Peter Jok, junior, guard/forward, 6'6, No. 14. Jok is a sharpshooter, but like Uthoff, he's dangerous both around and away from the hoop. He's a 40 percent 3-point shooter and 80-plus percent foul shooter, but's also at 46 percent on twos. He averages 15 points, and this much is clear: Jok is no joke.
Mike Gessell, senior, guard, 6'2, No. 10. Gessell is an effective supporting actor to Uthoff and Jok, who've done most of the heavy lifting. He shoots 42 percent on his limited (just 26) 3-point attempts this year, and his 7-assist average easily leads the Hawkeyes. He also scores a handy 9 points per game.
Adam Woodbury, senior, center, 7'1, No. 34. When he isn't serially poking people in the eyes, Woodbury is a nice player. He's a strong offensive and defensive rebounder and acts as the central anchor in Iowa's defense, which places in the top 15 nationally by adjusted efficiency. He chips in 9 points and 7 boards, on average.
Dom Uhl, sophomore, forward, 6'8, No. 25. Imagine an athletic power forward who steps out to make more than 50 percent of his threes, and you've got a sense of the matchup problems Uhl could present. He averages 7 points and 4 rebounds.
There are a lot of them, but we'll pick three that stand out:
Shooting. All around, Iowa is a team that makes its shots. The Hawkeyes click at 41 percent on 3-pointers, 50 percent on 2-pointers and 73 percent on free throws. They're more impressive from outside the arc than anywhere else, but they're generally dangerous and not safe to leave for open jumpers. Six rotation players shoot better than 40 percent on threes, one of the most absurd team stats in the nation this year.
Ball security. Expect Maryland to have to defend until the shot on just about every possession. The Terps are bad at forcing defensive turnovers, and Iowa is one of the best teams in the business at controlling the ball. The Hawkeyes turn it over on 14.1 percent of their possessions, the No. 4 mark in America.
Shot-blocking. The Hawkeyes swat away 15.4 percent of all opposing shots (No. 8 nationally) and a league-best 16.2 percent in Big Ten play. In a close game – which this will probably be – points on the margins mean a lot.
Defensive rebounding. In Big Ten play, Iowa has given up 32.6 percent of its opponents' misses to offensive boards, which is second-to-last in the conference. Maryland's had its own struggles in this department.
For the season, Iowa's also had a hard time getting to the foul line, but that problem has been mostly alleviated in Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes took 28 free throws in their win against Purdue on Sunday.
KenPom: Maryland, 73-72. Terps have a 52 percent chance to win.
Alex: Iowa looks like a better team than Maryland, and I'd pick the Hawkeyes to win by at least three possessions if the game were played in Iowa City. But it's in College Park, where Maryland hasn't lost in more than a year. I know better than to pick against this particular Maryland team in its own building, so there's only one pick for me to make.