Penn State vs Maryland Preview: Critical Game Between Two Desperate Teams

By Eric Gibson on February 7, 2018 at 9:31 am
Kevin Huerter

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

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Maryland
Maryland Terrapins
16-9 (5-7 B1G)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
6:30 p.m. EST - Wednesday, February 7, 2018
BRYCE JORDAN CENTER
University Park, PA
TV Info: Big Ten Network | Live Stream
KenPom Rank: 39
Vegas Line: Penn State -4.5

Penn State hopes to continue its recent string of solid play when they host Maryland in a return game at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Nittany Lions are 3-1 over the last two weeks ever since Josh Reaves returned from academic suspension. They'll look for revenge against the Terps after dropping the first game 75-69 back in early January

Neither of these squads would be included in the field for March Madness if the brackets were picked today, but they both share faint hopes of getting back into the race. That said, the loser of this game will essentially be relegated to only NIT bracketology the rest of the season. 

With Penn State's classes cancelled due to the current snowstorm on the east coast, it will be interesting to see what kind of crowd comes out to the Bryce Jordan Center this evening. The Lions performed really well in front of their biggest crowds of the season in their last two home games, but will the students turn out on their day off? They'll need to because no one outside of State College will be able to get to the arena. 

The Terrapins have not had the season they were expecting back in November, as injuries have piled up for Mark Turgeon's club. They've adjusted to losing Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender back in December, but their frontcourt is now down another player. Senior center Michal Cekovsky has been out the last two games with a heel injury and will likely not play tonight

Projected Starters
Penn State   Maryland
No. 10 - Tony Carr - 6'5 - So. PG No. 1 - Anthony Cowan - 6'0 - So.
No. 33 - Shep Garner - 6'2 - Sr. SG No. 5 - Dion Wiley - 6'4 - RS Jr.
No. 23 - Josh Reaves - 6'4 - Jr. SF No. 10 - Darryl Morsell - 6'4 - Fr.
No. 11 - Lamar Stevens - 6'8 - So. PF No. 4 - Kevin Huerter - 6'7 - So.
No. 24 - Mike Watkins - 6'9 - RS So. C No. 23 - Bruno Fernando - 6'10 - Fr.

Mark Turgeon has had to deploy 14 different starting lineups this season due to injuries and inconsistent play. His rotation will be down to eight scholarship players if Cekovsky is held out. Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter will go the distance if they can stay out of foul trouble (Cowan has only sat for 18 total minutes of Big Ten action so far). Turgeon's bench is essentially just three-point specialist Jared Nickens, although he's been forced to play deep reserves Josh Tomaic and Sean Obi behind Fernando. 

Scouting Report

Between all of the injuries and its overall youth, maybe it shouldn't be a surprise how Maryland's season has played out. The Terrapins have stayed competitive, but they have not been able to finish close games against better competition. They only hold one quality win on the year, a 79-65 home victory over Butler back during the Gavitt Games. Similar to Penn State, the rest of the Terps' resumé includes a whole bunch of near-misses, like blowing a 13-point halftime lead over Michigan State. Their only road win of the season came in overtime at Illinois, who's now 2-9 in the Big Ten. 

Maryland's defense has really struggled in conference play, allowing opponents to score at a 1.12 PPP clip. Only twice have they held a Big Ten team to under 1.0 PPP. Fernando is their only remaining rim protector and as a true freshman managing his first Big Ten campaign, he has not always been reliable due to foul trouble and inexperience. They are also allowing league foes to connect on 40.9 percent of their three-pointers. 

Offensively, the ball still flows through Cowan and Huerter. Both are versatile scorers, but it's Cowan's driving and Huerter's catch-and-shoot skills that are their strengths. Penn State did a decent job defending both in the first matchup, although Huerter was in foul trouble and only played 26 minutes. Outside of those two, there's Fernando who is a capable finisher at the rim and three-point specialists in Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens, but not a whole lot else to fear. Freshman starter Darryl Morsell has had tough sledding in his first Big Ten season with just a 88.2 offensive rating on 35.9 eFG% in league play. Penn State will want to force the ball into Morsell's hands as much as possible. 

Keys to the Game

MD Four Factors eFG % OReb % TO % FT Rate
Offense (45) 54.6% (47) 32.6% (71) 20.7% (286) 40.6 (31)
Defense (64) 46.9% (31) 27.4% (99) 16.1% (312) 22.4 (2)

Statistically speaking, Maryland's absurd 34-4 free throw advantage was the difference in the first game between these two teams. That will not happen again tonight, but officiating will certainly have an impact. Mike Watkins (17 points, 17 rebounds) and Bruno Fernando (17 points, 11 rebounds) had an entertaining battle down low and hopefully the rematch will not be dictated by the referees. 

Lamar Stevens should be Penn State's x-factor in this game. He was also saddled by foul trouble in the first matchup but still managed to chip in 15 points in 24 minutes. With Maryland's depleted frontline, I don't know who they have that could reasonably guard against Stevens. If the sophomore wing plays aggressive but under control, he will take the pressure off of Tony Carr to manufacture points. Carr posted 16 points and eight assists in College Park, but it came in ugly fashion after shooting 6-23 from the field. 

Jamari Wheeler also figures to have an important role in this game. The true freshman has hit the wall recently, but he bounced back with 12 good minutes against Iowa. He can match Cowan's blazing speed on defense, so Chambers may lean on the freshman more in this game, especially if the Lions decide to up their pressure. However, Chambers said he was hesitant to press in the last matchup for fear of transition threes from Huerter and Nickens. We'll see if the head coach takes up a different strategy this time around. 

Prediction

Penn State has looked good in recent weeks and there's no reason that shouldn't continue against the Terrapins tonight. This is not a Maryland team that's playing its best basketball nor are they at full strength. They've struggled on the road all season, while PSU has won back-to-back Big Ten home games by double digits for the first time since 2001. I don't expect Maryland to get the same advantage at the foul line, so I'm taking Penn State to comfortably cover the 4.5 points. Penn State 78 Maryland 66. 

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