Happy Saturday everyone. Hope you are enjoying your weekend.
The Big Ten gauntlet continues tomorrow when our Michigan State Spartans travel to the east coast to battle the Maryland Terrapins. A win would see MSU climb to .500 in conference play at 4-4 and help them get closer to the top four of the standings, land of the double-bye teams. A loss on the other hand would keep the Spartans near the bottom of the table. Basically what I am trying to say is that getting their first Big Ten road win would have massive implications. Joining us to talk about tomorrow’s opponent is Emmett Siegel from Testudo Times.
TOC: Maryland has had a pattern lately making it to the tournament one season and missing the cut the following year (obviously everyone missed the tournament in 2020 but still). Last year, you went dancing. Was there an expectation coming into this season that the pattern would break and the Terrapins would make it into the field for a second consecutive year? Where is this program in the second year under Coach Kevin Willard?
ES: There’s no need to dissect Mark Turgeon’s exit from Maryland here, but the most important context is this: Kevin Willard took over with Maryland in a somewhat stagnant state, but did not inherit a program in disarray like we see at some schools of a similar standing (Georgetown with Ed Cooley, whoever takes over at Louisville, etc.). There’s certainly a discussion to be had about NIL and some of the obstacles Maryland faces in trying to return to the upper echelon of college basketball, but it was in about as decent a place a school could be after getting rid of its coach.
Willard was very popular with Maryland fans last season. Although that team wasn’t remarkable, an NCAA Tournament win combined with a solid recruiting class led many to believe that making the postseason was a floor, and he said all the right things that fans ate up. It was sound logic to think that a team cobbled together with mid-major transfers and primarily unproven returners wouldn’t be as good as a team that Willard actually had time to put his stamp on. Talks that Maryland should’ve been ranked in the preseason seem misguided in retrospect, but at the time that was a very real sentiment in College Park.
Fast-forward to now, and Terps fans are upset. The team has performed far below expectations, and it seems like a longshot that it’ll make the NCAA Tournament. Looking at the way the Big Ten is shaping up, it doesn’t seem like there are many major resume-building opportunities left either. A recent top-10 road win at Illinois was much-needed, but following that up with a road loss at Northwestern dissipated most of that momentum. Willard isn’t going anywhere soon, however missing the tournament at Maryland would certainly warm his seat up.
TOC: Maryland returns three of the four players from a year ago who averaged double-figures in scoring - Jahmir Young, Julian Reese, and Donta Scott. What development was expected from these three upperclassmen this season? Have they delivered on those expectations?
ES: These three players are the cornerstones of this team, so much was expected of them. I’ll get into how they’ve played one by one:
Scott had a very rough start to the season but has come on of late, showing glimpses of the rare combination of skill, athleticism and size that has made him a popular breakout candidate for the past few years. There will be stretches where Scott is the best player on the floor and others where nothing’s working for him. It hasn’t been a great overall season for Scott and he’s drawn a lot of criticism, but he’s been dependable this month. When his outside shots are falling, he can be lethal.
Around this time last season was when Reese really started to put things together. He was expected to have a huge season this year, and there have certainly been times when that has shined through. Reese has the potential to take over games, but he still has some things holding him back, namely free-throw shooting, foul trouble and not being able to score outside the paint. When he’s on, Maryland is tough to beat, but there’s not much depth behind him if he has to sit on the bench.
When Young announced he was coming back for a graduate season, Maryland fans were understandably ecstatic. He was undeniably the best player on last year’s team, and he’s playing at an All-American level this season. He’s the most important player on the team and usually where the ball goes on isolation plays or when the shot clock begins winding down. He hasn’t gotten nearly enough help from the rest of the team, though, and it often feels like Maryland is wasting a special season from Young.
TOC: Maryland brought in a pair of top-100 recruits this season in DeShawn Harris-Smith and Jamie Kaiser. What have they added to the roster?
ES: DeShawn Harris-Smith and Jamie Kaiser Jr. were always going to have struggles as freshmen, but their acclimations to the college game have been rockier than advertised. Playing major roles — Harris-Smith is a usual starter and Kaiser is one of first players off the bench — they’ve both had their moments but are yet to put together consistent good play.
Harris-Smith’s offensive game has proven to be very limited. Virtually all of his scoring comes around the rim; his jumper is practically non-existent. He can hold his own physically, but the team just isn’t set up with enough shooters around him to allow him to get to the basket effectively.
Kaiser’s shot has been streaky and his defense needs a lot of work. He seems to overcommit very frequently and pick up unnecessary fouls, and on the offensive end he sometimes rushes into shots. He’s knocked down a few big shots this year and has shown promise, but just isn’t fully there yet.
In my personal opinion, Harris-Smith and Kaiser simply have had too much responsibility put on them early in their careers. They could end up being very good college players, but it’s not often that guys ranked where they were (outside the top 25 or so) immediately emerge as stars. It was an error in roster construction to make them, especially Harris-Smith, focal points rather than complimentary pieces.
TOC: Looking at some stats, Maryland is at or near the bottom of the Big Ten in PPG, FG%, 3P%, and assists. You lead the conference in both PPG allowed and in FT attempts/game. Considering these tendencies, has Maryland’s strategy evolved as this season has progressed to help mask their weaknesses and to accentuate their strengths? If so, how? If not, what should they be doing differently?
ES: If you coach basketball and are looking to the college game to teach kids how to run an offense, I would not recommend watching Maryland play. The Terps frequently look disjointed and very often run out the shot clock and have to settle for a bad shot. There are ample possessions where the Terps do dribble hand-offs at the top of the key until 10 or so seconds remain on the shot clock and they’re right where they started, relying on two-man play between Young and Reese to bail themselves out.
Since Maryland can’t reliably shoot — it’s one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the nation — most of its scoring has to come from attacking the basket and generating contact near the hoop. When outside shots are falling it naturally opens things up a bit, but there just aren’t any knockdown shooters on the roster. Also, Reese struggles with free throws. It’s a tough situation for Maryland to alleviate, and sometimes it’s hard to tell whether Maryland’s inability to score the basketball consistently is a result of poor roster construction or having little direction on offense. I’d err on the side of saying it’s a mixture of both.
The Terps are most successful when they are able to apply full-court pressure to opponents, but that’s hard to do if they aren’t making shots. They don’t have the firepower to hang with teams in a shootout, but do play good defense and have the capability to win low-scoring affairs.
TOC: What is the most important thing Maryland needs to do on Sunday to pick up the win at home against Michigan State?
ES: It can’t just be Jahmir Young carrying the load. There has to be depth to Maryland’s scoring, and even though nobody is expecting to see a ton of production from the Terps’ bench, players like Jahari Long, Kaiser and Jordan Geronimo need to be serviceable on the offensive end or else it won’t go well. Harris-Smith also can’t continue to put up negligible offensive numbers if Maryland is going to find a groove.
An example of this is Maryland’s last game at Northwestern. Young scored 36 points and Maryland still lost, in large part due to only four players scoring (the second time that’s happened this season).
TOC: Bonus Question: Predict the final score.
ES: Maryland has only lost at home twice in the past two seasons. Students aren’t fully back yet, though, so I’m not expecting an overly hostile atmosphere. I think it will be a close game throughout, with the Spartans having a slight edge.
My prediction: Michigan State 68, Maryland 64
TOC would like to thank Emmett for his help with this article.
Let’s go, Spartans!
Hey guys, just a heads up that due to other things in our schedules, we won’t have an instant reaction article out right after tomorrow’s game. We will get one out as soon as our schedules allow us to, which may be Sunday night or Monday morning. In the meantime, feel free to use the game thread to continue chatting. Apologies for the inconvenience.