Photo courtesy of Maryland athletics
The Maryland Terrapins, fresh off one of the most surprising seasons in program history, have finally made it to the NCAA Tournament.
At the midway point of the season, they looked dead in the water. Their tournament odds were dwindling, and they looked as though they would be only playing postseason basketball in the NIT.
Everything changed for them as the team caught fire after a win at Illinois. The Terps won nine of their next 13 games heading into March. Then, they found themselves in a precarious situation: comfort. Subsequently, the Terps lost two straight games to close out the regular season against two of the worst teams in the Big Ten: Northwestern and Penn State.
Maryland has since circled the wagons and will face Connecticut in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They’ll square off on Saturday night at 7:10 p.m. ET on CBS.
The Match-up Historically
Historically, these teams have not met often, and when they do, it is a very high-stakes affair. Most recently, the Terps defeated UConn in the 2002 Elite Eight to catapult to the Final Four where they won their first and only national championship.
Since then, the teams have seen very different levels of success. The Huskies have won three NCAA Tournament championships since that last March meeting in 2002. In 2004, 2011, and 2014, the Huskies cut down the nets. All the while, the Terps have struggled to make it out of the first weekend, not making a Sweet 16 appearance since 2015-16.
The Statistics of the Match-up
On paper, this match-up is looking to be pretty even. On the season, the Huskies are ranked No. 30 in NET rankings, while the Terps are sitting at No. 35. Maryland is the highest ranked No. 10 seed, according to the NCAA selection committee.
That indicates the belief that Maryland is capable of pulling an upset. UConn, however, has a distinct edge in SRS, which according to Basketball Reference, is a tool that combines both defensive and offensive ratings. Both teams, however, have very similar team stats.
Both UConn and Maryland are in the top 50 as far as points allowed per game. They nationally rank 42nd and 46th, respectively.
Neither the Huskies nor Terps score at the highest rates. The teams are averaging 72.5 points and 68.8 points per game, respectively.
This is going to be a tough, gritty game, no doubt, but both teams boast a lot of offensive firepower despite the stats that seemingly tell another story. Both teams have multiple playmakers who can score at will when given the opportunity to heat up. For the Huskies, they are led by an electric backcourt duo of James Bouknight, who averages 19 points per game and RJ Cole who scores 12.3 points per contest.
These two will do the vast majority of the scoring. In order to neutralize them, the Terps will have to employ Darryl Morsell, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He will be integral to the success of the Terps not only in this game, but if they advance to later rounds.
On the other side of the court, Maryland’s top two scorers are going to be the driving force offensively. Eric Ayala, who scores 14.9 points per contest is the leading scorer on the team, but is closely trailed by Aaron Wiggins at 14 points per game. These two have been very efficient down the stretch, and can carry this team at any given time.
They are supported by two sophomores from Philadelphia, Donta Scott and Hakim Hart. Those two combine to average 18 points per game.
Hart, in particular, has been excellent of late. In a win over Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament, he provided great shooting and defense.
Then there is Scott, who has had an up-and-down season, but has found more of a rhythm of late. As the Terps’ leading scorer in non conference play, he has shown flashes of his potential. Scott will look to recapture that magic for Maryland in the NCAA Tournament.
Analyzing The Game
Overall, this game will most likely not be the prettiest of affairs, but one that basketball purists will appreciate. The Terps and Huskies will play a very hard-nosed game that will likely keep fans from both teams on the edges of their seats. The difference-maker in this game will be which offense establishes itself inside the paint.
This is due to the fact that neither team employs a starter over 6-foot-9. The teams make sure to play a tough zone on the perimeter in order to counteract this shortcoming. Whichever team takes advantage of this, and gets to the paint — or to the foul line — will leave victorious.
By the time this buzzer sounds, both teams will have played a tough game, using whatever they have to try to emerge victorious, but only one will survive.