Maryland ready to return to big time college basketball

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Maryland ready to return to big time college basketball

After a brief hiatus the Maryland Terrapins mark their return to big-time college basketball with a nationally televised tilt against the reigning national champion Kentucky Wildcats on Friday night from the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, New York. The game will be played on national television in a sold out NBA arena where 31 NBA scouts and executives have been credentialed for the game.

To some degree, the Terps are already winners by virtue of being in this game. It was not that long ago where games like this were commonplace for the Maryland program. But in an era of instant media and shortened memories, those games seem like ancient history. This game came about when Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari called Maryland Head Coach Mark Turgeon the day he took the job in College Park eighteen months ago and offered the opportunity. Calipari and Turgeon are long-time friends dating back to their days in Lawrence, Kansas in the early 1980's.

The Maryland coach was quick to seize the chance for his team to play in this spotlight game last year but he had to worry if his team- and his program- would be ready for a game like this against arguably college basketball's premier program.

As circumstances and good fortune have it, the Terps enter this game not only excited about the opportunity, they actually have more than a puncher's chance of competing with–and defeating–the Wildcats.

Since the day he took charge of the Maryland program, Turgeon has combined good fortune (inheriting center Alex Len from the previous staff's recruiting efforts) with hard work on the recruiting trail to completely retool the program he inherited. The hard work on the recruiting trail paid immediate dividends and the Terps will have six new players who will all be in Turgeon's ten-man rotation on Friday night.

In addition, if there is a good time to play a team as talented as Kentucky, early November may very well be that time. The exodus of NBA draft picks from Lexington after Kentucky's championship run last year has been well documented. Just as well documented is the profile of Calipari's incoming freshman class. If you need any primer on Kentucky talent and star power, just tune into ESPN's omnipresent “Kentucky All-Access” that seems to be on fourteen times a day.

In spite of the talent that left, nobody is going to feel sorry for Kentucky.

There is no way to predict how a young team will fare in the spotlight of a big early game like this and both the Terps and the Wildcats are exceptionally young and–for the most part–unproven.

Assuming both teams are ready to play and put forth the kind of efforts that both Turgeon and Calipari expect, this game could come down to a handful of different boxes that the Terps will have to check to come out of New York with a win.

In an early game like this between two uber-athletic teams, often time the game comes down to who scores the most easy points. If Maryland is able to limit easy Wildcat baskets in transition and keep the Kentucky size off of the backboards it will go a long way to insure a positive outcome. Considering all of the new talent on Kentucky's roster, a central part of the Maryland game plan almost certainly hinges on forcing the Wildcats to grind out baskets in their half court offense.

That said, the Terps have their own challenges in the same area and Calipari will look to limit Len around the basket and Terrapin wings Dez Wells and Nick Faust in the open court.

With both coaches looking to accomplish similar things, this game will probably not be aesthetically pleasing. Expect a game where shooting 40% from the field feels torrid.

With both teams grinding it out in the half court then things like foul trouble, turnovers and free throw shooting become paramount. Expect Turgeon to play ten men in the game and shorten his bench a bit down the stretch. Conversely, Kentucky will play up to eight players. But just because you use more players it doesn't mean you're deeper unless you're getting quality play from your bench.

Both teams enter the game with questions about their respective point guards. Maryland's Pe'Shon Howard will try and rebound from an injury riddled sophomore season and will be greatly aided by the presence of freshman Seth Allen. Howard is more pass oriented than Allen is right now but the presence of both offers Turgeon a luxury he simply did not have last season. Regardless of which one gets the bulk of the minutes, the Maryland point guards will have to handle the ball in the face of an impressive Kentucky defense.

Maryland fans last saw Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow when he was wearing a North Carolina State jersey two years ago. After sitting out his transfer year last season, Harrow has inherited the point and will ask to provide his young team with experience, stability and direction. Even as talented as he is, that is an awful lot to ask a player after a year away from competition. He will have to deal with an equally impressive Maryland defense.

The Terps received a huge break leading into the game with the NCAA's decision to grant Maryland's appeal to grant Wells immediate eligibility. Not only is he clearly one of his team's best players he offers up big game experience where it is in short supply on both sides. He will also help his team that – in the early going at least- is in need of a regular scoring threat from the wing to compliment Faust and freshman Jake Layman.

The humble and self-effacing Turgeon would probably never admit to it but a fascinating subplot will be his matchup with Calipari. Turgeon is an interesting mix of old school and new school. He is part player's coach and part “my way or the highway.” The slicker than slick Calipari is just now getting credit for the coach that he is. Say what you want about the issues that have surrounded some of the programs he left he is both a savvy marketer and a completely underrated in-game coach. His team went 38-2 last season when they were everybody's biggest game.

When this game was announced a year ago most people looked at it like it was an Opportunity Game. Meaning that it was an opportunity to play a spotlight game in the Big Apple and have a place close enough for Terrapin Nation to gather and watch their team against the kind of program they aspire to be.

Now, because of events of the past 12 months, the “opportunity” has taken on a completely different meaning. Now it's an opportunity to beat the sport's standard bearer and announce your return to the highest level of college basketball.

Game on.

College Football Playoff projections: From contender to pretender in just four weeks

College Football Playoff projections: From contender to pretender in just four weeks

There were high hopes for LSU at the start of the season. With the collection of talent the Tigers boast on their roster, there was no reason to think they could not challenge Alabama for SEC supremacy.

Even my preseason College Football Playoff projections at the start of the season had LSU as one of the four teams to make the playoff.

SEE THE NEW COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF PROJECTION HERE

The Tigers' championship hopes took a hit with an opening loss to Wisconsin. Now just four games into their season, Les Miles been fired and their playoff aspirations appear to be completely dashed after a devastating loss Auburn.

With Alabama looking as dominant as ever and what was believed to be their main rival already looking down and out, who else can challenge the Tide for supremacy of the SEC? Who else joins the Alabama in the projected top four?

Find out here in this week's College Football Playoff projection.

Jerod Evans' 4 touchdowns carry Virginia Tech past East Carolina

Jerod Evans' 4 touchdowns carry Virginia Tech past East Carolina

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) -- Jerod Evans said that he needed to clean up some things during Virginia Tech's upcoming off week.

The Hokies' fan base may be wondering what exactly that is. His play so far has been sparkling.

Evans, the Hokies' starting quarterback, threw three touchdown passes and rushed for one to lift Virginia Tech over East Carolina 54-17 on Saturday.

The Hokies (3-1) scored on their final five possessions of the first half, including all four of their second-quarter possessions, to overwhelm East Carolina (2-2) and snap a two-game losing streak to the Pirates.

Evans completed 13 of 20 passes for a career-best 282 yards and rushed for a career-best 97 more. He has thrown at least three touchdown passes in three of the Hokies' first four games and is completing 67 percent of his passes.

"I missed a couple of things here and there," Evans said. "I have a lot of things that I can get better at for sure."

Evans entered the game with an ACC-best 10 touchdown passes this season. Of more importance to Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente, he has thrown just one interception.

"I think he's pretty good," Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said of Evans. "He's been judicious with the ball and he's going to the right place most of the time. He's been pretty efficient."

Following a punt return for a touchdown by Greg Stroman and a touchdown run by Marshawn Williams that gave the Hokies a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, Evans threw touchdown passes of 24 yards to Isaiah Ford, 13 yards to Travon McMillian and 55 yards to Cam Phillips. That final score gave the Hokies a 38-0 halftime lead.

ECU quarterback Philip Nelson had 362 yards passing and two touchdown tosses to Jimmy Williams. The Pirates had 443 yards of offense, but committed three special teams mistakes, fumbled once and were sacked six times.

"We studied the film well and they had a lot of keys when they were sliding the protection," said Ken Ekanem, who had two of the Hokies' six sacks. "We had a lot of indicators and we knew when someone was going to be left one-on-one. We look forward to one-on-one matchups and pride ourselves on winning those. We did a good job of that today."

THE TAKEAWAY

EAST CAROLINA: Coming off a 20-15 loss at South Carolina and playing its third consecutive game against a Power 5 opponent, the Pirates looked a step slow and out of sorts from the opening kick. They went three-and-out on five first-half possessions. The Pirates hope to regroup now that they have finished the non-conference portion of their schedule.

"That was clearly the best football team that we have played," ECU coach Scottie Montgomery said. "The most physical. The biggest. The fastest. The strongest. The smartest. I thought they competed well in their scheme. They played great emotional football. They leaned on their crowd. They played a complete football game -- as complete as it gets."

VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies dominated on special teams, scoring three touchdowns as a result of those units. Greg Stroman scored on an 87-yard punt return, and Cam Phillips blocked a punt that led to an Evans touchdown pass to Travon McMillian. A sack of ECU punter Worth Gregory in the fourth quarter led to a 1-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Brenden Motley.

UP NEXT

EAST CAROLINA: The Pirates open AAC play next Saturday with a home game against UCF. ECU blasted the Golden Knights 44-7 last season for their first win in Orlando since 2008.

VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies are off next week before taking on North Carolina on Oct. 8 and will be looking to avenge last year's 30-27 overtime loss. The Hokies have won nine of the 12 meetings with the Tar Heels since joining the ACC.