Maryland basketball vs. No. 18 Connecticut: Previewing the season opener

November 8, 2013

(Associated Press)

THE INFO

Who: Maryland (0-0) vs. No. 18 Connecticut (0-0)
When: Friday, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
TV: ESPN2
DMV radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM, 980 AM.
Coaches: Terps — Mark Turgeon (third season, 42-28). Huskies – Kevin Ollie (second season, 20-10)

THE SCRIPT

Once again, the Maryland men’s basketball team begins its season in the Big Apple, or at least across the Manhattan Bridge and into Brooklyn. Already familiar with the Barclays Center, having lost there by three points to Kentucky last November, the Terrapins have another high-stakes opportunity at hand against Connecticut, which  brings all five starters back, is nationally ranked and finally eligible again for postseason play. Maryland, too, has big hopes for scoring its first NCAA tournament bid since 2010, and with a new-look, guard-heavy lineup filled with familiar faces, it seems perfectly realistic to expect as much, though players and coaches alike are considering this game as an early benchmark. So take this moment to appreciate that, once again, college basketball has arrived for another year.

THE QUESTIONS

1. Withstand the pressure? Seth Allen’s broken foot hampered an already slim rotation and thrust Dez Wells into the starting point guard spot, and Maryland will need him most against pressuring back courts like Connecticut. Wells might be capable of bullying the Huskies’ smaller defenders, but that won’t do much good when Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright hound him in the back court. If the Terps, who against Division III Catholic University last weekend had four turnovers in their first six possessions, wilt under the pressure, they could once again be in for a sloppy, mistake-filled opener.

2. Win the interior? The X-factor for Turgeon will be stopping U-Conn. junior forward DeAndre Daniels, who the third-year Maryland coach said “makes [Connecticut] go.” Daniels blew up over his final four games last season, averaging 21.3 points, nine rebounds and 3.3 blocks during that span. But he’s best as a “stretch four,” stepping outside the paint and opening things up for Boatright and Napier to penetrate. This is where Maryland’s front court comes into play. Charles Mitchell, Shaquille Cleare and to a certain extent Damonte Dodd need to be disciplined defensively, hedging hard on screens and forcing Connecticut’s dynamic tandem to play outside, then snagging rebounds and using their size on the offensive end. Tyler Olander and Phillip Nolan will man the interior, neither particularly imposing names for Maryland, so the opportunity will be there to gain an advantage in the lane.

3. Handle the stage? Maryland was winless in two appearances at New York’s NBA arenas last season against Kentucky in the opener and Iowa in the NIT semifinals, undone by sluggish starts beneath the bright lights. “I just think we weren’t that confident,” Cleare said about the 72-69 loss to the Wildcats at the Barclays Center. “We were hyped but not that confident in our sets and what we practiced for. This year we’re much more aggressive and ready to go.”

THE STATS

13: Years since these two teams last faced. Maryland won during the NCAA tournament in 2002, though Connecticut leads the all-time series, 3-2.

23.5: Maryland’s three-point percentage in New York last season.

940: Combined points scored last season by Boatright and Napier, both of whom averaged over 15 points per game.

THE QUOTES

“It gives us a lot of exposure early. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I’m sure they’ve been running commercials this week on ESPN about the game. It’s great exposure. I think a lot of people are fired up about college basketball. They’re looking for games to watch and we’ll be on. And we’re playing a really good team that’s ranked high with really good guards. I think the exposure will be great for us and that’s what we want. We don’t want to limp into a season, especially when we think we have a good team. And you also want to see where you are. Personally I think U-Conn.’s a little undervalued. With guards like that I think they should be ranked a little higher. It should be a great test to see where we are nationally.” Turgeon.

“We’re a totally different team this year. We have a lot of guys who have a year under their belt. They’re ready for this stage.” – Sophomore Jake Layman.

THE TERPS TUNE OF TODAY

Howlin’ For You” by the Black Keys.

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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 · November 8, 2013

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