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.

Justin Jackson, North Carolina too much for Virginia

Justin Jackson, North Carolina too much for Virginia

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- Justin Jackson scored 20 points to help No. 10 North Carolina beat No. 14 Virginia 65-41 on Saturday night, keeping the Tar Heels alone in first in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Kennedy Meeks had all of his 13 points and seven rebounds after halftime for the Tar Heels (23-5, 11-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). They shot 47 percent and led by double figures nearly all night against the ice-cold Cavaliers.

UNC led 34-22 at halftime, never let Virginia closer than nine then ran off 10 straight points to take a 25-point lead and send the Cavaliers to their first three-game skid in a single season in six years.

Marial Shayok scored 13 points to lead Virginia (18-8, 8-6), who went 10 minutes without a basket at one point during the second half and missed its first 17 3-pointers for the game as the Tar Heels turned it into a rout.

Virginia shot 28 percent for the game and finished at 2 for 20 from 3-point range to go with a season-low point output, with every missed shot becoming magnified as the Tar Heels stayed in attack mode.

It was also was the second-lowest point total by an opponent in UNC's Smith Center, just a basket better than Clemson's 39 points here in 1995.

UNC finished with a 44-26 rebounding advantage, with much of that edge coming after halftime behind Meeks.

BIG PICTURE

Virginia: The Cavaliers offered up a worst-case scenario Saturday night. If Virginia's defense can't rattle an opponent, the Cavaliers' limited offensive punch gives them little margin for error.

UNC: This was one of several tough games for UNC coming down the regular-season stretch. Winning this rematch of last year's ACC Tournament championship game by a lopsided margin has to be a boost to an already confident team.

UP NEXT

Virginia: The Cavaliers return home Monday night to host Miami.

UNC: The Tar Heels have another big home game, hosting No. 8 Louisville on Wednesday night.

George Mason rallies late but falls to Rhode Island, 77-74

George Mason rallies late but falls to Rhode Island, 77-74

BY TYLER BYRUM

FAIRFAX, VA – Coming down the final seconds of the game, Rhode Island was able to hold off a resilient George Mason squad after blowing an 18-point lead in the second half to win, 77-74.

Stanford Robinson scored a team-high 21 points off the bench in a homecoming affair for the Paul VI Catholic High School graduate. From behind the arc, Robinson was a perfect 3-for-3 and brought down two huge offensive rebounds late in the contest.

In the final minute though, it was Robinson who gave the Patriots hope as he missed two free throws with less than two seconds left in the game.

Grabbing his fifth rebound of the contest to go along with 22 points, Jalen Jenkins threw up a full-court heave that was just a foot wide of the basket. 

From the onset, Rhode Island (17-9, 9-5) had the size advantage but was going against the NCAA’s best rebounding guard, Marquise Moore. Bringing down 31 rebounds, 14 being offensive, the Rams scored 13 pivotal second chance points. Moore, though, would manage to record his 17th double-double of the season (19 points, 10 rebounds). 

This was Moore's fourth straight double-double, which is helping his case as one of the favorites for the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. 

E.C. Matthews was another one of the Rams to rack up the points in EagleBank Arena. With 18 points on 15 shots, Matthews kept the Rams alive after the team allowed the Patriots to go on a 21-3 run.

The Rams consistently shot over the Patriots with five players recording a three-point basket. In the first half, the team shot 54 percent from behind the arc and had rolled to a 39-26 lead at the break.

George Mason (18-9, 8-6) was able to climb back after an insurmountable 18-point deficit minutes into the second half. Highlighting the scoring run, Otis Livingston II (nine points and seven rebounds) was able to hit a fadaway to bring Mason within four and the crowd to their feet.

Throughout the contest, the Patriots drew 23 fouls and made 31 of their 36 free throw attempts. This kept numerous Rams in foul trouble and forced Dan Hurley to go deep into his bench and use 11 players.

“That was one that we needed desperately,” Hurley said “We’ve done a lot of soul searching; we’ve also dealt with a lot this year.”

The victory gives Rhode Island a much-needed win after falling to Fordham 53-43 earlier in the week. Moving up to third place in the Atlantic 10, the Rams now use the momentum from this game in order to climb back in the NCAA tournament bubble.

Falling in this game, George Mason now is on the outside looking in for one of the conference’s coveted double-byes in the conference tournament.