Maryland basketball vs. Niagara: Previewing the NIT first round


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THE INFO

Who: Maryland (22-11) vs. Niagara (19-13).

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Comcast Center.

TV: ESPN2.

DMV radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM, 1300 AM.

Coaches: Terps — Mark Turgeon (second season, 40-26). Purple Eagles – Joe Mihalich (15th season, 265-202).

Pomeroy ratings: Terps 55th, Purple Eagles 130th.

Final RPI: Terps 71st, Purple Eagles 123rd.

THE SCRIPT

Relegated to its first National Invitational Tournament appearance since 2007-08, a consolation prize after its ACC tournament run fell just short, Maryland now gets seventh-seeded Niagara, the MAAC regular season champion that has a host of Washington and professional hoops connections. Coach Joe Mihalich coached at DeMatha and reserve Malcolm Lemmons attended Gonzaga. Antoine Mason (father: Anthony Mason) and T.J. Cline (mother: Nancy Lieberman) have famous parents. The Purple Eagles play up-tempo, ranking 40th nationally in possessions per 40 minutes, shoot a lot of three-pointers and force plenty of turnovers. They’re a desperate bunch with nothing to lose, “crazy enough to think we can win,” in Mihalich’s words. The Terps, meanwhile, are looking to transfer their late-season push into a deep NIT run, three wins away from a trip to New York City for the semifinals.

THE QUESTIONS

1. Withstand the pressure? Niagara does two things very well – forcing turnovers and not turning the ball over itself. Maryland does neither of these things well. Scrappy guards like Marvin Jordan, Ameen Tanksley, Juan’ya Green and Mason, Niagara’s four leading scorers, all average more than one steal per game. For reference, Nick Faust is Maryland’s leader at one per game.

2. Crash the boards? This seems like a foregone conclusion, that Maryland will outrebound Niagara, a team whose tallest player is 6 foot 8. The Terps will likely run their small, four-guard lineup to compensate, but Mihalich says controlling the boards will be his team’s biggest key to success. A tall task against the nation’s second-ranked rebounding team.

3. No letdown? Maryland should beat Niagara. The nation’s sixth-tallest team should dominate its 256th tallest inside, with a potential lottery pick and three other supporting cast members. Kenpom.com has the Terps as an 85 percent favorite. But if the Terps emerge cold, succumbing to Niagara’s back-court pressure while playing sluggish perimeter defense, their NIT days could be numbered.

THE STATS

22.3: Dez Wells’s points per game over the past seven games.

40.27: Minutes per game for Niagara’s Juan’ya Green over the past 11 games.

45: Niagara’s adjusted tempo rank nationally, according to Kenpom.com. Maryland is 100th.

THE QUOTES

“I think perception rules everything when it comes to the NCAA tournament. I’ve noticed that over the years. The perception of our league wasn’t great. We had some bad losses early and it stuck with us. Teams like us and Virginia just didn’t get it done on the road. If we would have won on the road a little more, I think we both would have gotten in.” – Turgeon.

“That’s the main thing, we still have a shot to play basketball. Even if we weren’t playing games, I’m sure we’d be playing pickup soon.” – point guard Pe’Shon Howard.

THE TERPS TUNE OF TODAY

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt | March 19, 2013