Terps Basketball: Maryland at Michigan State Tomorrow; Enjoy This!
I remember some 25 years ago or so when Oriole Icon Cal Ripken Jr. was asked about his hitting thoughts while he was in the midst of a 20 game hitting streak and he looked at the reporter and said, ‘do I have to analyze it? Can’t I just enjoy it’?
That’s pretty much the way I feel writing a piece on the Maryland Terrapins and their seven game winning streak as they head into a rather large Big Ten conference game on the road against perennial conference bully Michigan State. That the Terps have turned the corner now is pretty much undeniable. They have three consecutive Big Ten road wins. In this day and age of parity in the sport and the noted difficulties of winning conference games on the road that number is really impressive. The reason for huge uptick in Terp fortunes is pretty simple…
Point guard Anthony Cowan.
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Maryland’s sophomore center Bruno Fernando announced his arrival early in the season with a series of monster performances and he hasn’t let up since. His spectacular blocks and his dunks often go viral in a matter of seconds. An impressive freshman class has played better and better with each game and seems unfazed by the bright lights each night. The one thing that was missing was the play of their point guard. Don’t get me wrong…he played well in some games but it seemed like there was always some uneven stretches that doomed his team at critical points in important games. Those seem like distant memories now.
His run since the calendar turned to 2019 has been ridiculous. The kind of run that gets your jersey hung in the rafters a few years after you leave. He has been particularly effective in the second halves of games and it seems he finds another gear while fatigue is setting in everywhere else. With him hitting his stride this group has not only changed the narrative to the season, they’ve taken it in a whole new direction. Any Big Ten win is a good win. Winning on the road is like GOLD. And a primary reason for it is Cowen’s play. He’s playing like a top five player in the league.
Before we get to far ahead of ourselves here it should be noted that in the matchup against Michigan State Cowan will be matched up against the guy I think is the best player in the league – Sparty point guard Cassius Winston. Last year when Michigan State came to Xfinity, Head Coach Tom Izzo talked openly about Winston and his need to ‘turn the corner’ for the Spartans. His play had been uneven and erratic and Izzo needed him to match up with the rest of a squad that included two NBA lottery picks. He made strides late in the season but this year is a completely different animal.
Winston is averaging over 18 points per game and shoots over 45% from behind the three point line. He’s an 80%+ free throw shooter and his assist to turnover ratio per game is 7.3:2.5. Remarkable numbers for a point guard. The matchup between him and Cowan will be fascinating. While individual matchups rarely decide games, they will make for some interesting theater. They also make an impression on voters who determine post season accolades.
Winston’s play is one of the reasons the Spartans never skipped a beat when steady wing Joshua Langford was hurt five games ago. It appears that Langford will be out a bit longer and Winston and MSU have had great support from a handful of almost interchangeable big men. Center Nick Ward (6’9” 245lbs) has enjoyed some good games against the Terps in the past and averages over 16 points per game and there is very little drop off after him. Glue guy Kenny Goins (6’7” 235 lbs.) leads the team in rebounding with over 9 per game. A third wide body – Xavier Tillman (6’8” 245 lbs.)- has shown great improvement as a scorer this year and has become a dependable third option with Langford out. Together they probably constitute the best front line in the Big Ten, with the Terps right behind them. The collective match ups along that front line may well decide the direction of the game.
The support play of Maryland’s freshman class will be interesting to watch. Eric Ayala went down hard against Ohio State with a hip injury. It appears he will be able to play but may be limited. If that is the case then the Terps need to take a page out of the Langford/Spartan playbook and have everybody just step up some. Freshman Aaron Wiggins was excellent in Columbus in his last game and that’s a great sign. There’s nothing like getting a boost like that off your bench. I think the Terp newcomers in the back court will be just fine with the setting in the Breslin Center. The freshman bigs will have some work on their hands.
Jaylon Smith and Ricky Lindo Jr have had really good seasons to date. Smith’s success was expected all along. While he has struggled with the physicality of the game there are things he does on the court that very few players of his size can do. The Spartans represent an enormous test for Sticks. Michigan State is a notoriously physical team in the paint. They’ll test the freshman early and often. Lindo’s success is one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. He has proven to be a rebound and loose ball magnet and never backs down at any point. I have to believe Dennis Rodman played a lot like Ricky Lindo at a similar age. Given their extraordinary bulk in the interior, the Spartans may be attacking any Terp defender not named Bruno until the Maryland defense proves they can stop it.
Let’s not overanalyze the matchup. Let’s just try to enjoy it.