Who: Maryland (5-2) at No. 5 Ohio State (6-0)
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio.
DMV radio: 980 AM, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM.
Coaches: Terps — Mark Turgeon (third season, 47-30). Buckeyes – Thad Matta (10th season, 256-73)
The Maryland men’s basketball team’s biggest test to date comes Wednesday night at unbeaten and fifth-ranked Ohio State, the Terrapins’ first true road game of the season. The Buckeyes moved up two spots into the AP top five this week, and the USA Today coaches’ poll has them third nationally. Granted, Ohio State hasn’t exactly been challenged this season either — its biggest win has come on the road against a Marquette team that departed the rankings this week – but there’s a big difference between a Terrapins group seeking to prove themselves on the national stage and the Buckeyes, who have reached the Elite Eight in consecutive seasons. Theoretically, Maryland shouldn’t be feeling too much external pressure: It’s the underdog in a road game against top five team, without much to lose but plenty to gain. But that’s without mentioning the burden of facing Ohio State’s suffocating defense, which leads us into our first question …
1) Keep calm under pressure? Everyone knows about Aaron Craft, who vigorously studies the tendencies of opposing guards and is surely licking his chops over facing a Maryland team that commits turnovers on 20 percent of its possessions, but guard Shannon Scott actually leads Ohio State in steal percentage, according to Kenpom.com. The Terps cannot afford to get sloppy and buckle under the pressure, so this means Roddy Peters, Dez Wells and Nick Faust all playing mistake-free games and avoiding the types of back-court giveaways that turn into easy layups on the other end. “It’s a big concern,” Coach Mark Turgeon said.
2) Defend the system? Ohio State boasts four players averaging in double figures, and Turgeon thinks four more could easily average 10 points if they played for other teams. This makes it impossible to key on one player and it means none of the Terps can take plays off defensively. Three players – Craft, Amir Williams and Lenzelle Smith Jr. – are averaging exactly 11.3 points per game, and that’s without mentioning junior forward LaQuinton Ross, widely considered to be the team’s biggest offensive threat. Ross has labored through six games, averaging just eight points per game and getting shut out against Marquette, but he exploded for 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting against North Florida after Thanksgiving. With Wells and Faust likely matching up against Craft and Shannon Scott, in whatever order Turgeon prefers, this might leave Jake Layman on Smith and Evan Smotrycz on Ross. Regardless of the defensive combinations, Ohio State’s depth makes this an extremely tough matchup for the Terps.
“They have good players,” Turgeon said. “Hopefully for us, we’re making them take jump shots over hands and they’re missing them and we’re limiting them to one shot, that’s how you’ve got to play against them to beat them. If they’re hitting jump shots over hands, they’re going to be pretty tough to beat.”
3) Shoot well? Maryland’s low-post game has been lacking this season. Stellar, though, has been the three-point shooting of both Layman and Smotrycz, who are each shooting better than 45 percent from deep this season. Given how well the Buckeyes defend dribblers, the Terps need big, accurate nights from Layman and Smotrycz to help keep pace and perhaps ease pressure off the back court. It won’t be easy; Ohio State’s opponents are shooting only 24.5 percent on three-pointers this season, the 14th-worst rate in the country.
86.3: Ohio State’s adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom.com, which ranks first nationally.
60.4: Maryland’s free throw percentage, which ranks 333rd nationally. Turgeon has never coached a team that dipped below 60 percent, but another bad night might do it.
0: Buckeyes who chew up over 25 percent of possessions. All six players scoring at least 8.0 points per game use between 16 and 24 percent of possessions. By contrast, both Wells and forward Charles Mitchell are over 25 percent.
“We haven’t seen a defense like this. We haven’t played an environment like this. It’ll be quite a test.” – Turgeon.
“I think we have to know the scout, do our jobs. We went over personnel today. They definitely got some good pieces. If we can handle the pressure their guards will put on our guards defensively, we’ll have a chance.” — Smotrycz, who spent two seasons with Michigan and has faced Ohio State six times.
THE TERPS TUNE OF TODAY
“Pressure” by Billy Joel. Obviously.