Let's Get Frantic: Maryland I

By Patrick Vint on January 10, 2020 at 2:15 pm
© Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

IOWA (10-5, 1-3) VS. MARYLAND (13-2, 3-1)

DATE: January 10, 2020
TIME: 6:00 p.m. CT
LOCATION: Carver Hawkeye Arena
TV: Fox Sports 1
RADIO: Learfield Sports
STREAMING: Fox Sports Go
LINE: Maryland -2
KENPOM: Maryland -1 (Iowa 49% win probability)

After a pair of conference road losses, including a sputtering performance in Lincoln mid-week, Iowa returns home to face the Maryland Terrapins Friday night.  The game will tip live on Fox Sports 1 at 6 p.m. Central.

That 50/50 win probability and Vegas line says a lot about these two teams.  Frankly, it's hard to know what exactly Maryland has at this point.  The Terps played a middling non-conference slate, only losing on the road at Seton Hall in the week before Christmas.  On the other hand, Maryland didn't have a win over a Kenpom top 30 team until a reeling Ohio State came to College Park Tuesday night.  Previously, Maryland had lost at Penn State.  Its other three Big Ten games have been at home.  The only road non-conference game it played was the aforementioned loss to Seton Hall.  In other words, Maryland is 13-0 at home or neutral sites and 0-2 on the road, and this is the Terps' longest road trip of the season by damn near 1,000 miles.

There is no doubt that Anthony Cowan (6'0", 180) is an all-conference-level star.  Cowan leads the Terps in points (16.7 ppg), assists (4.1 apg) and steals (1.3 spg).  He plays the most minutes, has the highest usage rate, makes the most three-point shots, and gets and makes the most free throws.  He is the catalyst for everything Maryland does offensively.  He's joined in the backcourt by 6'5" sophomore Eric Ayala (9.9 ppg, 2.1 apg) and 6'6" sophomore Aaron Wiggins (10.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg).  Neither Ayala nor Wiggins has presented much of a perimeter shooting threat -- both players are sub-30% from three this year -- but haven't shied away from taking outside jumpers regardless.  Guard/forward Darryl Morsell (6'5", 200, 8.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg) actually starts ahead of Ayala on most nights, but acts mostly as a role player.

Sophomore center Jalen Smith (6'10", 225) does all the stuff Cowan doesn't: He leads the Terps in rebounding (9.7 rpg) and blocks (2.3 bpg), is second in scoring (13.3 ppg), and is the team's most efficient offensive threat largely due to a 53% shooting percentage from inside the three-point arc.  Smith gives Maryland something that most opponents don't have: A post defender capable and big enough to work on Luka Garza without much help.  Maryland also had twin freshman centers to throw at teams, but the Mitchell twins both entered the transfer portal at Christmas break.  Enter Chol Marial, a 7'2" freshman who has only recently seen action.  Freshman forward Donta Scott (6'7", 225, 5.3 ppg) rounds out the most recent starting lineup, with sophomore Ricky Lindo, Jr. (6'8", 220, 2.4 ppg) providing depth from the bench.  The Terps have been one of the nation's best defensive teams so far this season, mostly because they have made life miserable in the lane; the loss of the Mitchell twins obviously makes that more difficult and creates a significant unknown heading into Friday night.  For what it's worth, Kaleb Wesson got his customary 15 points and 9 rebounds in a loss at Maryland mid-week.

Figuring out Iowa isn't much easier at the moment.  Yes, the Hawkeyes have some good wins this season, but its best of the season-to-date -- Texas Tech and at Iowa State -- look worse now than ever before.  Furthermore, those wins were with Jordan Bohannon and C.J. Fredrick, neither of which will likely be available in the near future.  Before Bohannon was declared done for the season, Iowa had been held under a point per possession just twice in eleven games; since Bohannon exited, the Hawkeyes have been under a point per possession twice in four.  It's a small sample size, but Bohannon-less Iowa doesn't look as potent on the offensive end of the court as it had before, in large part because there is greater incentive for opponents to pack the lane against Garza.

And so we come to Friday's game, where the strength of Maryland (point guard offense, post defense) comes up against the great strength of Iowa (post offense) and a significant weakness (perimeter defense, particularly on the ball).  If the Hawkeyes find a way to contain Cowan and force jump shots from Ayala and Wiggins, Maryland could have trouble.  I would expect a ton of zone from Iowa to keep Garza home against Cowan and Smith and force perimeter jump shots out of the Terps.  If Iowa can do that, it has a fair chance of winning.

That is, unless it's another 4-for-33 night from behind the arc.

Which is could be.

So yeah, we don't know anything.

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