2019 NCAA Tournament: Maryland’s Prospects
It has been an interesting week for the Maryland Terrapins basketball team. Less than a week ago they were bounced unceremoniously out of the Big Ten tournament by a depleted Nebraska Cornhusker team that they had handled twice during the regular season. Their non-competitive effort led to a soul-searching 72 hour period where they licked their collective wounds and wondered what the NCAA tournament committee would do with them in terms of seeding and location for the Big Dance this weekend.
Turns out the tournament committee is Turtle friendly.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
I’m going to completely discount the fact that the Terps drew a team in Belmont that had to endure a tough play in game against Temple on Tuesday night to earn their spot against Maryland. I see Belmont playing on Tuesday as an advantage for the Bruins, not a disadvantage. Often times the tournament is about which team finds its footing and rhythm earliest. The Terps haven’t seen theirs in two weeks. Belmont found it against the Owls in Dayton.
Beyond that the tournament Gods were very kind to the Terps. They get sent to Jacksonville, Florida – a pretty easy hit for fans that can get away. They get a 6th seed in the tournament. I’m not sure anybody could have argued if they had been given a 7 seed as a result of the Nebraska game but they were not and that’s a big deal. If they are lucky enough to survive Belmont (more on that shortly) they will play a 3 seed in LSU that is without their Head Coach. A 7 seed would have meant playing a strong 2 seed like Tennessee in the second round. Let’s just hope the Terps are teeing it up against LSU on Saturday afternoon.
Anybody objectively watching Belmont dispatch Temple 81-70 got a really good taste of what the Bruins are all about. They are comprised of highly skilled players playing at a high octane pace. Consider that their best player, Dylan Winder, shot a meager 2/7 from the field against Temple after a season where he averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. And, yet, they still spanked the Owls. Maryland fans doing their own personal scouting reports must have been thinking they were watching an over-hyped senior off of a mid-major squad when watching him play in Dayton. Yet he still had 14 rebounds and 3 steals in a game where the Owls often dedicated two defenders to him. Consider this…in the Bruin’s first round Ohio Valley tournament game against Appalachian State he had 32 points and 21 rebounds. Those are insane numbers for a guard – even if he is 6’8”.
The reason Belmont advanced with Windler struggling was because – like most good teams – several players pitched in to more than fill the vacuum. Senior guard Kevin McClain had a monster game with 29 points on only 14 field goal attempts. Freshman point guard Grayson Murphy was terrific as well with 9 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
Quick aside – what were you doing in 1986? That was the year that Rick Byrd was hired as the coach at Belmont. To think that anybody can survive in that role for 33 seasons is ridiculous. He has a great system in place and his players seem to really respond to him. If his freshman center, Nick Muszynski, had been able to play in the OVC tourney final against Murray State he probably would not have had to endure the long wait to hear the committee call his team’s name on Sunday night.
To beat Belmont a few things have to line up for the Terps. First, this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing has to end. The team has been maddeningly bipolar over the past few weeks and that can’t happen if you hope to advance in the tournament. An even, consistent performance is required on Thursday in Jacksonville. From and execution standpoint the first priority for the Terps has to be in an area that has plagued them consistently this year – transition defense. You have to be really impressed with Belmont’s early offense. McClain, in particular, is a huge problem if you don’t find him in transition. He is absolutely lights out from the three point line on the break.
I’m not sure about you but a part of me is looking forward to seeing a game that is a little more open than we’ve seen in the last three months of Big Ten play. Maybe what the Terps team to solve their offensive problems over the past few months is to get a bunch of points on the break themselves. I’m pretty sure they don’t want to turn this into a track meet but they definitely need to take advantage of opportunity points. There will be plenty of those on the table.
Ironically one of the things that Maryland will want to do is to go “all Big Ten” on the Bruins. By that I mean you need to make Belmont respond to your physicality. While I was surprised with the quality of Belmont’s bigs – especially Muszynski – they must be forced to deal with Bruno Fernando early and often in this game. Fernando and Jaylen Smith match up well with Belmont’s guard-oriented lineup and you would hope that both of those guys could be terrors around the hoop.
Lastly, there is one Terp who should enjoy a significant advantage over any Belmont defender and that would be Anthony Cowan. He has a gear the Bruins cannot match. For that reason I expect to see Belmont zone the Terps a great deal more than they did to Temple. The good news is that it will slow the game down. The bad news is that it will put a premium on execution and making shots from distance…not exactly two Terp strengths this season. Regardless of Belmont playing man or zone a bulk of the scoring burden in the backcourt will fall to Cowan. Every March there is a breakout guy from a breakout team. Hope springs eternal…let it be the Terps and Anthony.
A fixture in the Washington sports scene since his days as a player and a coach, Chris Knoche has accumulated a diverse resume as a media presence in town for more than two decades. That resume has earned him opportunities on both national and local stages and made him a Washington DC staple on radio, television and in digital media.
He was an all-Metropolitan selection as a player at WT Woodson High School and played collegiately at the University of Colorado and American University. After serving stints at American – first as an assistant coach, then as the Head Coach from 1990-1997- he began working games as a Color Analyst for CBS/Westwood One, ESPN, Comcast Sportsnet and DirecTV. After the 1998 and 1999 seasons Chris was selected to do NCAA tournament work for Host Communications and CBS/Westwood One. In 1999 Chris began working as the Color Analyst for the University of Maryland broadcast network and enters his 20th season with the Terps this season.
During those twenty years Chris has appeared regularly on George Michael’s “Full Court Press” on the NBC affiliate in Washington as well as being a regular guest for the highly rated “Sports Reporters” show on ESPN 980 radio. He currently serves as host for the DC Basketball Coaches podcast along with former Maryland Head Coach Gary Williams and he has regularly written columns for comcastsportsnet.com and Baltimoresportsandlife.com.