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THE BIG PREVIEW: Virginia at Maryland

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The Hoos head to College Park to take on the Terps in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge

NCAA Basketball: Delaware at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers head to College Park tonight to take on the No. 24 Maryland Terrapins in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. For some reason, whoever it is that decides ACC-Big Ten challenge matchups continues to have no respect for the Virginia Cavaliers. Here are the rankings (via KenPom) of Virginia and their ACC-Big Ten Challenge opponent since Tony Bennett took charge in Charlottesville.

UVA Rankings in ACC Big Ten Challenge

Year Virginia Rank Opponent Opponent Rank
Year Virginia Rank Opponent Opponent Rank
2018 3 Maryland 33
2017 3 Wisconsin 70
2016 1 Ohio State 73
2015 3 Ohio State 76
2014 5 Maryland 33
2013 13 Wisconsin 5
2012 53 Wisconsin 12
2011 37 Michigan 22
2010 91 Minnesota 58
2009* 76 Penn State 91
*2009 KenPom rankings are end-of-season rankings.

As Virginia has improved nationally, their Big Ten opposition has not. If anything, their opposition has weakened. Meanwhile, Duke and UNC have each played top-25 opponents almost every season. Sure, it has helped Virginia (12-6), who trail only Duke (17-2) and Wake Forest (12-5) in overall ACC-Big Ten Challenge record.

Maryland, on the other hand, has not won an ACC-Big Ten Challenge game since moving to the Big Ten in 2014. That includes a 76-65 loss to Virginia at home in 2014. That is the last time these two teams have played. Virginia shot 53% from the field in that game, and never trailed en route to a comfortable win.

This year’s Maryland team is completely untested. Yes, Virginia hasn’t been tested much. But a 7-point win over a tough Wisconsin team is a heck of a lot better than anything Maryland has so far. Maryland’s strength of schedule right now is ranked #340 on KenPom. Virginia’s is #297. The Terps best win is a 104-67 win over 104th ranked Marshall. They’ve also played just one road game, a 78-57 win just down the road at 314th ranked Navy.

Maryland is led in scoring by junior guard Anthony Cowan for the second straight year. Cowan is a combo guard, but at 6’0, 170, he’s best suited as a PG, but leads the team in shot attempts by a wide margin. Freshman PG Eric Ayala, one part of an outstanding freshman class for the Terps, has started the past five games at PG. That moves Cowan off the ball, although really they are both combo-guards and they split ball-handling duties. Cowan is shooting just 28% from three this year, though he’s a 35% shooter for his career. Despite not shooting well, he’s still averaging 17 points per game to go along with five assists.

Ayala has made 9-of-20 (45%) from three in the early going. He’s a knock down shooter and has taken well over half his shots from downtown. He’s a capable finisher, but he needs to get stronger to be able to do it consistently against Division I defenders.

Figure on Kihei Clark being in the starting lineup again. He shut down Wisconsin’s D’Mitrik Trice and he’ll be asked to do the same on Cowan. With Jerome on Ayala, that leaves Kyle Guy with a bit of a mismatch against either 6’5” sophomore Darryl Morsell or 6’6” freshman Aaron Wiggins. (Morsell is not related to Virginia recruit Casey.) Morsell is the likely starter and will be a tough cover for Guy because he’s a very physical player. He’s a slasher who gets by with brawn more than quickness. Wiggins, on the other hand, is a shooter and leads the team in three point attempts. He’s made 38% and will spend a lot of time spotting up on the outside. The final member of the wing rotation is another freshman, Serrel Smith. Smith is a scorer who can shoot, drive, and finish. He’s small and hasn’t shown a consistent ability to knock down shots at this level. His minutes and his output are both trending up, but he may not see many minutes in this one.

Up front, the Terps are dangerous. That begins with sophomore Bruno Fernando out of Angola. He was on the Big Ten All-Freshman team last year after he averaged 10 points, six rebounds, and a block in just 22 minutes per game. His minutes are up a bit, but that’s a bit skewed because of all the blowouts they’ve played. He’s averaging 16 and nine now, with 2.5 blocks. He’s a big, strong interior player who can score inside as well as crash the glass on both ends. He is not better than Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, who had to work very hard to get anything going against Jack Salt. Fernando is shooting almost 80% from the field so far, mostly on plays like this.

Ok, that’s impressive. Most of Fernando’s points come on dunks. Getting inside for those dunks against Salt will not be so easy.

Next to Fernando is freshman Jalen Smith (no relation to his classmate), a McDonald’s All American who was ranked the 10th best incoming prospect by ESPN (rivals ranked him 24th). Smith has started every game this year and is averaging 13 points and 7.5 rebounds in the early going. He can shoot the ball a little bit (1-for-7 from three, which is poor but shows that he has the green light), and he can play inside as well.His strength is getting up and down the floor. He’s a very good passer, and Maryland will often use him in the high post as a distributor. Here’s an example.

Smith makes a nice entry pass down low to Morsell. It helps that Marshall’s defender has no idea where his man is. Don’t expect that from Virginia.

The Hoos have had some success recently with the pick-n-pop for Diakite.

Apologies for the poor video, you can’t even really see Diakite. He knocks down an open 15 footer after setting the pick. Look for Virginia to use similar looks against the Terps. Smith hasn’t proven to be adept at controlling the pick-n-roll yet in his career.

With Salt on Fernando, that leaves Hunter on Smith. Hunter has proven capable of defending bigger men, but Smith might be too big. Considering the mis-match that Kyle Guy appears to have on the perimeter, we might see more of a traditional lineup with both Salt and Mamadi Diakite on the floor. Diakite is a better matchup for Smith, assuming he can avoid getting into foul trouble again.

This was a fun look from Marshall, off a secondary break situation. The screen isn’t actually set, but they show the screen action and Smith completely loses his man for an open dunk. Virginia isn’t likely to run much of a transition offense in this one, but they will use similar looks in the half-court to get Smith out of position. Smith and Fernando are strong shot-blockers, especially on the weak side. A benefit of getting Diakite (or Jay Huff) out on the perimeter is that Smith is forced out to the perimeter, which opens things up for drives from De’Andre Hunter and company.

Because of the two strong shot blockers inside, the Terps play tight pressure defense on the perimeter. They’re willing to give up a drive now and then because they have the erasers in the paint. They want to defend against the three and try to force turnovers (and subsequent transition opportunities).

The Terps are also one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the nation. With a twin towers lineup that features two very strong interior players, they are grabbing over 40% of their own misses. Meanwhile, Virginia has struggled with strong rebounding teams this year. Yes, Wisconsin had just 4 offensive rebounds, but they aren’t crashing the offensive glass as much as Maryland will.

Grabbing those defensive rebounds is going to be key. With Clark hopefully shutting down Cowan, Maryland is going to struggle to score in the half court. They want to get out and run, but that’s tough to do against Virginia. If they can’t score in the half court, and they can’t score in transition, then the offensive rebounds are the only way the Terps are going to hurt Virginia.

Maryland and Virginia used to be big rivals, so the Maryland fans will certainly be hyped. Going on the road to face an old rival is even tougher. Hopefully, there will be enough of a UVA presence from the DC area to help counteract the UMD crowd. If you’re reading from the DC area, there are still tickets available.