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Preview: Michigan State vs. Maryland

2:40 P.M. (ET), SUNDAY
(Tim Brando and Mike Gminski)

The reward for Your Spartans' first round victory is a Sunday date with the ACC regular season co-champions.  As always, we start with bullets:
  • 24-8 (13-3).  Tied with Duke for the ACC regular season championship. No particularly notable wins in their out-of-conference slate: the best win was probably a 71-42 shelling of Fairfield, and they also beat Indiana 80-68.  Meanwhile, they lost to Cincinnati (69-57), Wisconsin (78-69), and Villanova (95-86).  Their relatively poor seed--how often is the second-best team in the ACC a 4-seed?--can almost certainly be attributed to those mediocre OOC results.  Nonetheless, the conference record is certainly noteworthy: the Terps finished the regular season with seven straight wins, including an emotional win against Duke on senior night.
  • And now, for the statistical part of our program: KenPom's computer rates the Terps as the 10th-best team in the country.  Not surprising, as they're very strong on both offense (119.1 adjusted efficiency, 4th nationally) and defense (92.0 adjusted efficiency, 38th nationally). 
  • The four factor profile is similarly impressive: 51.9% eFG (53rd nationally), 16.6% TO% (17th), 35.7% OR% (62nd), and 34.0 FTR (268th).
  • They shoot the ball well from the free throw line (72.7%, 50th) and from three (38.2%, 28th -- though they don't shoot many threes: 24.5 3PA/FGA, 331st).
  • On defense, Maryland forces turnovers at a higher-than-average rate (21.2%, 119th), limits opponents to an extremely poor eFG (44.4%, 21st), but gives oppenents lots of second chances (36.3% opponent OR%, 304th).  Obviously, the last weakness is something MSU will need to capitalize on.
  • The Terps generally use an 8-man rotation, but rely heavily on their starters: bench players only provide 26.8% of all minutes played for Maryland.  Individual stats for Terrapin players can be found here.

Clearly, the headliner for Maryland is the sometimes controversial--but always interesting--Greivis Vasquez, the ACC Player of the Year, and likely first-team All American.  (Here's one of many reasons for the hate directed at him; personally, I've always kinda cheered for him because I like his game, and because he's had to put up with so much xenophobic nonsense throughout the past few years.)  Vasquez scored 17 points the last time Maryland played Your Spartans, in November 2008, and this year, he's averaging 19.4 ppg and 6.3 apg, while shooting a more middling 49.9% eFG. 

I'll cut-and-paste the scouting report from Testudo Times' Ben Broman, who knows more about Vasquez than I do:

Offensively, [Vasquez] an extremely complete player, and it takes a top-flight defender to slow him down. He can hit the outside shot, drive the lane, finish at the rim, and dish the rock at an elite level. Where he's a liability is on the defensive end, because he simply doesn't have the quickness, strength, or mentality to be an elite defender. As for stopping him with a quicker player, it has seen moderate success. If that quicker defender is using a lot of pressure and getting in his face, Vasquez tends to get frustrated. But if he's playing off just a little, it probably won't work. Vasquez isn't particularly quick, but he's extremely long, and that makes up for his lack of speed. He'll still be able to get in the lane either way, and shorter defenders have trouble contesting his shot or getting in his line of sight to force bad passes.

Weeeeeell, seems like we sure could use a healthy Chris Allen tomorrow.  Allen has the height to guard Vasquez (who is 6'6") and, of course, has generally been tasked with slowing down the top opposing guards all season.  Kalin Lucas has the requisite quickness but Vasquez would be able to shoot over him with ease; you never quite know what you're going to get with Durrell Summers; and while Mike Kebler has had some success defending good players--Talor Battle in particular--it would still be disconcerting to see a player with such limited game experience attempt to check one of the four or five best players in the country.  Raymar Morgan may even get a chance if things get desperate.  There are no great options here; if Allen is well enough to play at close to his normal level, he's the best one.  And if there's any question as to Vasquez's centrality to Maryland's fortunes, KJ provides the following evidence: in Maryland's 8 losses, Vasquez averages 4.5 assists and 5.4 turnovers; in the 24 wins, he averages 8.8 assists and 2.3 turnovers.  Making his stats look more like the latter set is clearly the biggest defensive priority tomorrow.

Maryland's starters all fall between 6'4" and 6'10"; the 6'10" guy, freshman center Jordan Williams, is probably the #2 cause for concern.  He's young but has started 30 of the 32 games he's played this season, and is coming off  the best game of his career: a 21 point, 17 rebound performance against Houston.  As KJ noted below, he's also by far the best Terp rebounder.  One glaring weakness: Williams only shoots 53% from the line, so Derrick Nix and company shouldn't be overly concerned about getting physical with him.  Maryland also features three starters who can simply bomb it from outside: Vasquez (36% from 3), Sean Mosely (39%), and Eric Hayes (45%!).

The Terps will look to push the ball, as they do much of their damage on the fast break.  Their adjusted tempo--70.1, 56th nationally--reflects that preference.  MSU, of course, is better equipped to play an uptempo game than most of our Big Ten brethren, but we struggled mightily on Friday when New Mexico State cranked up the tempo.  The biggest key to the game for us is the same as ever: dominate the rebounding battle and capitalize on our second chances.  Testudo Times, again:

When Maryland loses, it's usually because they gave up an absurd amount of offensive rebounds and second chances. That's what did them in against Georgia Tech, and it certainly made a difference in the Clemson and Duke losses. For some reason I'll never understand, Gary Williams doesn't teach rebounding or boxing out, and says that rebounding is all about effort. When Maryland gives that effort, they can usually keep the battle of the boards close enough. When they don't, it gets ugly. I wouldn't be surprised if that's where the game's decided.

For our purposes, we'll assume that the effort will be there (if it's not there with a chance to go to the round of sixteen, then, um, I don't know what to tell you . . . ), but MSU should have the opportunity to rebound lots of its own misses.  However, it's just as important to keep Maryland off the offensive glass: while the Terps are a poor defensive rebounding team, their 35.7% OR% is certainly respectable.

My anxiety about this game has roughly quadrupled since we learned earlier today that Chris Allen may be in worse shape than any of us expected.  We missed him desperately against Minnesota; Maryland is a much better team than the Gophers are, and Allen is the ideal prospect to guard the Terps' best player.  Fingers crossed for a quick recovery.

KenPom, fickle mistress that he is, predicts a 75-71 Maryland victory.  The winner gets Northern Iowa, who had a bit of an exciting Saturday, as you might have heard.  While UNI is playing fantastic basketball and will be a highly formidable opponent for either team, it's impossible not to think that Kansas's loss has blown the bracket wide open.  As Wojo wrote earlier tonight, MSU is now presented, all of a sudden, with a tremendous chance to make more noise in this tournament than was previously thought possible.  Here's hoping that this team can join the ranks of great MSU teams of the past that saw similar opportunities, and seized them.