Terps Aiming For First Sweet 16 Since 2016
Thursday’s matchup with East Region 11-seed Belmont represented a significant challenge — and opportunity — for Mark Turgeon’s Maryland Terrapins. Having not won a postseason tournament game since the second round of the 2016 NCAA tournament, the task of facing a quality opponent that many believed was capable of advancing was a difficult one. But Maryland, after getting off to a slow start, rebounded and used a balanced offensive effort to beat the Bruins by a 79-77 final score.
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Four starters in double figures, led by Jalen Smith as he scored 19 to go along with 12 rebounds, and a fifth (Anthony Cowan Jr.) who scored nine points and dished out six assists, was enough to combat the excellence of Belmont’s Dylan Windler, who went for 35 points and 11 rebounds in his final college game. Now that Rick Byrd’s team is in the rear-view mirror, the next challenge for Maryland is SEC regular season champion and East 3-seed LSU. The Tigers, who are still without head coach Will Wade as the school waits for him to answer questions regarding his appearance on an FBI wiretap, managed to hold off Yale in its NCAA tournament opener Thursday afternoon, 79-74.
Acting head coach Tony Benford is working with a very talented group, but it’s clear which player is LSU’s most important: sophomore point guard Tremont Waters.
When Waters is on the court things run far more smoothly for LSU on the offensive end of the floor, as he’s capable of not only getting his own shot but getting his teammates scoring opportunities in the areas where they can be at their best. While he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well Thursday, scoring 15 points on 5-for-15 shooting from the field, Waters dished out a game-high seven assists (one less than Yale had as a team) in his 34 minutes on the court. Yale was able to begin its second-half rally when Waters wasn’t on the floor, as LSU struggled in its search for quality shots. It goes without saying that limiting Waters will be the key for Maryland on Saturday.
In addition to Waters, who leads LSU in both scoring (15.1 ppg) and assists (6.0 apg), the Tigers have three other double-digit scorers in junior guard Skylar Mays, freshman forward Nazreon Reid and sophomore guard Javonte Smart. Mays led the way offensively for the Tigers on Thursday, as he scored 19 points on 5-for-11 shooting from the field. The junior put together a solid performance after he struggled mightily in LSU’s SEC tournament loss to Florida, a game in which he shot 3-for-13 from the field and scored just six points (he was 0-for-6 from three). While he isn’t a great three-point shooter, making just 30.3% of his 5.0 attempts per game, Mays is a 55.5% shooter inside of the arc.
As for Reid, the highly regarded freshman is a more than capable scorer and rebounder for LSU. Averaging 13.8 points and a team-best 7.2 rebounds per game, the 6-foot-10 freshman from New Jersey shoots 47.8% from the field and 36.8% from three. Against Yale he was one of two LSU bigs to post a double-double, scoring 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting while also grabbing ten rebounds. Reid can score both inside and out, with the perimeter opportunities coming by way of pick and pop situations more often than not.
If there’s an issue for Reid, it’s the fact that no one really knows what’s going to happen with the basketball if he isn’t shooting it. Against Yale he was responsible for five of LSU’s ten turnovers, and for the season he’s averaging 2.6 turnovers per game. Reid’s turnover percentage of 17.2 is second-highest on the team among rotation players, with the aforementioned Waters having the worst percentage (20.4). Kavell Bigby-Williams, who accounted for ten points and ten rebounds Thursday, and freshman Emmitt Williams (eight points, five rebounds vs. Yale) provide additional athleticism and depth in the front court.
Javonte Smart, who missed two games earlier this month due to the Wade wiretap situation before being cleared to return to play, is LSU’s top offensive option off the bench. The 6-foot-4 guard is averaging 11.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, and he’s capable of not only getting his own but setting up teammates as well. LSU’s essentially down to an eight-man rotation, with freshman forward Darius Days being the last man. However it can be argued that this is closer to seven than eight, as Days has played a total of 13 minutes in the Tigers’ last two games.
Where LSU can really hurt teams offensively is on the glass, as they boast an offensive rebounding percentage of 36.5%. Bigby-Williams and Williams both have offensive rebounding percentages of at least 15.0%, with Days (13.2) and Reid (10.6) also in double digits in that statistical category. The good news for Maryland is that it’s generally done a good job of ending defensive possessions with a rebound, and that’s an area in which the likes of Jalen Smith and Bruno Fernando will need to excel on Saturday.
As for LSU’s defensive ability, the Tigers are forcing turnovers on 17.8% of their opponents’ possessions. That’s a major concern for Maryland given their penchant for miscues, some of which come against little to no ball pressure. LSU has the size and athleticism needed to get after teams on the defensive end of the floor, which is something that Maryland will need to contend with. Saturday’s matchup should be a close one, and it will boil down to Maryland’s defending of Waters and how well the Terps take care of the basketball.
Raphielle’s been writing about college sports for more than a decade, making the move to college basketball alone in 2013. Beginning his work with the former website CollegeHoops.net in 2003, Raphielle spent 3 years writing for NBCSports.com beginning 2013, covering CBB and the Olympics. In 2016, Raphielle joined Heavy.com. If there’s a game on, there’s a strong likelihood that he’s watching it.