Maryland basketball vs. Georgia Tech: Previewing the ACC home opener

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THE INFO

Who: Maryland (9-5, 1-0 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (9-4, 0-0 ACC)
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Where: Comcast Center
TV: ACC Network (Tim Brant, play-by-play; Dan Bonner, analyst)
DMV radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM, 980 AM.
Coaches: Terps — Mark Turgeon (Third season, 51-33). Yellow Jackets – Brian Gregory (Third season, 36-39).
Kenpom rating: Maryland 69th, Georgia Tech 100th.

THE SCRIPT

Transitioning into 2014 on a two-game winning streak, the Maryland men’s basketball team feels like it possesses a new energy as non-conference play gets left behind. Gone, the Terrapins say, are the doldrums of November and December, when losses to Oregon State and Boston University left them in a terrible situation of needing to play catch-up to improve their NCAA tournament resume. Turgeon chuckled when asked about his team’s profile on Friday afternoon, saying it was far too early for such talk, but it really is a reasonable question at this juncture: With 17 ACC games left on the docket, how much work does Maryland have to do to realize its preseason expectations? The Terps have already scored an ACC road win at Boston College, something that took one month last season, and can move to 2-0 against a limping Georgia Tech team missing double-double machine Robert Carter. Jr., who is out indefinitely with a torn Achilles.

THE QUESTIONS

1) Win the interior? Even without Carter, the Yellow Jackets still have imposing center Daniel Miller, a fifth-year senior who burned the Terps for 16 points – on 12 for 12 free-throw shooting — nine rebounds and three blocks in Atlanta last season, a loss which all but clinched Maryland’s future in the NIT. Though losing 9.3 rebounds per game from the box score will undoubtedly hurt, the team that ranks 39th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage and 61st in offensive rebounding percentage, so it’s not just Carter mopping up everything. The Terps don’t need their big men to dominate offensively, but they must control the glass and limit Georgia Tech on the defensive end.

“That’s all we’ve talked about is rebounding, preparing for these guys,” Turgeon said. “They get a lot of second-chance points as part of their offense. Not only are their big guys good rebounders, but their guards are good rebounders. We’ve talked about that a lot.”

2) Start strong? This applies to a macrocosmic level as much as the micro. Last season, on a 13-game winning streak that was the program’s best since the 2002 national championship season, the Terps crushed Virginia Tech in their ACC opener but tapered off from there, losing two straight to Florida State and Miami and ultimately five of their first eight games. Of course, Maryland has struggled to avoid simply limping out of the starting gates, and can’t afford to fall behind as favorites – again – at home.

3) Dare them to shoot? Georgia Tech is an atrocious three-point shooting team, ranking 318th nationally with a 28.9 team-wide percentage. Leading scorers Trae Golden (13.2 points per game) and Marcus Georges-Hunt (11.8) are both shooting below 30 percent on three-pointers. The Yellow Jackets, accordingly, don’t attempt a lot of deep shots — Jake Layman, Evan Smotrycz and Nick Faust have all hoisted over 60 threes, while Solomon Poole leads Georgia Tech with 51 – but the Terps need to avoid getting beat off the dribble and dare the visitors to beat them from deep.

THE STATS

3: Games against Georgia Tech played by Nick Faust, the Maryland player with the most career experience against the Yellow Jackets. He’s averaging 9.7 points against them.

6: Consecutive Maryland wins versus Georgia Tech at home.

9: Percentage of possessions used by Jake Layman against North Carolina Central, by far his season low.

THE LINKS

Terps dug themselves into an RPI hole

Front court still struggling

Seth Allen works towards 100 percent

New depth on display vs. North Carolina Central

THE QUOTES

“It’s been an experience. Just got to let them know how I’m feeling. Just when I’m out here on the court and stuff, just really go at my own pace, don’t rush things. The big thing for me is to get back in game shape, so I’m trying to practice as much as I can. But I also want to be careful on my foot.” – Allen.

“It’s been overwhelming enough as it is, the start of the season and the schedule we’ve played an all that. Really Georgia Tech’s a heck of a team. All my attention’s on that, then I won’t have much time to prepare for Pittsburgh. But our guys know. We’re not where we wanted to be. That’s obvious. But I like where we are, and where we’re heading, I should say. We’re looking forward to the next 17 games.” – Turgeon.

THE TERPS TUNE OF TODAY

“Miles to Go” by Dave Barnes.

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 · January 3, 2014