Against Michigan State, Maryland will seek an up-tempo style

The fourth-seeded Terrapins top the No. 13 seed Cougars, 89-77, in an NCAA tournament first-round game in Spokane, Wash.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 21, 2010

SPOKANE, WASH. -- Maryland senior forward Landon Milbourne wasn't all that impressed with the pace at which the Terrapins' first-round NCAA tournament game against Houston was played Friday night. Sure, each squad handled more than 72 possessions -- an indicator of an up-tempo affair -- but Milbourne felt that as quick as the pace might have been, his team probably left some possessions out on the court.

"Personally, I didn't really feel like we were getting up and down as much as we wanted to," Milbourne said. "We didn't really press at all in the second half, and that's one of the big things that we do. We didn't get enough steals, and I think if we'd have picked it up that way, you would have seen a lot more up and down."

In the Terrapins' 89-77 win over Houston, Maryland's vaunted full-court press -- the wild card the Terrapins play when the situation warrants an additional advantage -- was necessary only for a short period during the first half. But when Maryland (24-8) faces Michigan State on Sunday for the right to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003, such a tool might see more extensive use.

The Spartans (25-8) prefer to operate at a slower tempo than do the Terrapins, and when Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo listed his top concerns entering Sunday's contest, turnovers made the list.

"I think we should press a lot more," Maryland junior guard Adrian Bowie said. "They seemed like they were struggling with New Mexico State's pressure, so I mean, I figure if we get the ball out of Kalin Lucas's hands, then we have a better chance of causing turnovers."

Lucas, Michigan State's first team all-Big Ten point guard, re-injured his right ankle in the second half of the Spartans' win over New Mexico State on Friday. Lucas first injured the ankle on Feb. 2 at Wisconsin. He said Saturday the ankle "feels great. It's 100 percent."

Another one of Michigan State's starting guards, junior Chris Allen, suffered a sprain to the arch of his right foot. Unlike Lucas, Allen did not practice Saturday. Allen sported a walking boot, and though he said he would "definitely" play Sunday, Izzo called Allen's status a "day-to-day, minute-to-minute thing."

But even when Lucas and Allen were in the game Friday, Michigan State opted to break New Mexico State's press by in-bounding the ball to sophomore forward Draymond Green, who stands 6 feet 6 and 235 pounds. Green, who caught the ball near the free throw line, then was responsible for locating and making a pass to one of those guards, who were roaming along the sidelines.

A capable passer, Green often made sound decisions with the ball, but there were a few occasions in which New Mexico State's mild pressure forced Green into committing a turnover. Allen said Green is a good fit for his roll in Michigan State's press break because Green is taller than a typical guard and can see over defenders.

"If that was to happen against us then we would probably pressure him and make him turn the ball over," Bowie said. "You see a big guy like him have the ball, there's no way he should get around guards like us."

Green said Maryland's full-court defense "isn't really a press that's just going to dog you the whole way. They pretty much probably trap the first pass and then they're getting back. So it's just a matter of getting out of the first trap."

As Georgia Tech and other ACC opponents can attest, it's not necessarily that simple. Using its pressure defense off of every made basket, Maryland forced Georgia Tech to commit 16 turnovers in the second half of their ACC tournament quarterfinal meeting on March 12. The Terrapins used the press then as a method of orchestrating a comeback, and it nearly allowed them to pull out a win.

Against Houston, guard Eric Hayes said the Terrapins did not press too much so as to avoid allowing easy shots in transition. And besides that, Maryland led the entire second half. Hayes said circumstances often dictate when the Terrapins employ their press, though he acknowledged the probability of it coming in handy on Sunday.

"I think we might pressure a little bit more against Michigan State just because they're a little bit more balanced on offense," Hayes said. "But it's really just based on how the game is going for us."

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