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Virginia vs. Maryland Basketball Preview

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An ACC rivalry renewed in the ACC-B1G challenge

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The #6 Virginia Cavaliers head to College Park tonight to take on the now 21st-ranked Maryland Terrapins.  The Hoos are looking to avenge last year's defeat on the road and also try to salvage the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which the ACC currently trails 6-2.  The game tips off at 9:15 PM and will be televised by ESPN2.

Maryland is off to a nice start this season, matching UVA's 7-0 record.  Those 7 wins could be split into two categories.  Five of them were at home against teams ranked 200th or worse by KenPom. Winning those five games is not news, though their margins of victory were strong (five games by more than 15 points, one closer game against Monmouth immediately after Dez Wells's injury - more on that below).  The other 2 were nice neutral court victories against Arizona State and KenPom #32 Iowa State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.

The Terps are a very different team than the one that split with UVA last season.  First of all, lots of Terps left College Park (as most who enter College Park desire to do).  Charles Mitchell, Nick Faust, Roddy Peters, Shaquille Cleare, and, most notably, Seth Allen all transferred toward greener pastures (except for Seth Allen, who is now at Virginia Tech).  Additionally, Dez Wells broke his wrist and will miss the game, as well as the rest of December, and Evan Smotrycz is out with an ankle injury.

This is a big deal.  When the Terps took down the Hoos on that March afternoon at the Comcast Center, the aforementioned 7 players combined to score 65 of the teams's 75 points (!), and 4 were in the starting lineup.  Dez Wells in particular killed us, scoring an efficient 18 points on 5-7 shooting, while Allen added 20 more points.

Even without Wells, Maryland is a dangerous squad, particularly at home.  The player UVA be watching out for most is freshman guard Melo Trimble.  Trimble has started his college career with an 126 ORtg using 24% of possessions (that's very good), making 56% of his 2s and 48% of his 3s and getting to the free-throw line at a steady clip (.86 FTA/FGA).

The good news is that Trimble has never played against a defense remotely like Virginia's.  Still, the basket will still be 10 feet off the ground and the rim 18 inches in diameter.  UVA has to force him to take contested shots and frustrate him into turnovers, an area in which he's struggled.  He coughed the ball up 6 times in Maryland's last matchup with fast-paced VMI, and turns it over on 24% of possessions he uses this season.

Senior Richaud Pack has seen an increased responsibility after Wells's injury.  After a quiet start in which he made 6 of his 15 two-point shots, he scored 22 points on 10-13 from inside the arc against VMI.  UVA fans will notice a familiar face in Jake Layman, who has shown a propensity to shoot and score from anywhere on the court (50% of his shots this year are at the rim, and 32% from behind the arc).  He's the only player who scored in last March's matchup who will play tonight for UMD.  We also won't be able to miss 7' 1" freshman Michal Cekovsky, who basically plays like a giant tree around the basket.

Keys for UVA:

1) Limit Melo Trimble.  With Wells out, he's the only Maryland player that could really do damage on his own against the packline.  Virginia had success stopping opponent's main threats last year (TJ Warren, Marcus Paige, etc.), and must do the same thing here: stay in front of him, while also not allowing him space to shoot the 3, and force turnovers. Easier said than done.

Trimble isn't Maryland's only weapon. They are a balanced team. But he has the most potential to do serious damage.

2) Score points.  Okay, that's generally the goal of basketball, but the Hoos didn't act like it at the Barclay's Classic in Brooklyn.  The main offensive issue on Saturday vs. Rutgers was the inability to make three-pointers, where the team was 2 of 16.  This was an early season strength, but Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes have been in serious shooting slumps, with Brogdon at 21% on the season.  Additionally, the team got a bit shell-shocked after a few early blocks, and stopped trying to get to the rim; UVA has a glaring weakness at getting to the FT line (272nd in the nation), that it must improve on.

Justin Anderson, who has been outstanding this year, will likely be a man on a mission, as he tends to be in College Park. Hopefully, he harnesses that power for good rather than evil (taking long 2s, for example).

Virginia's defense has been steady all season. If we do lose the game, I can't see a scenario where we aren't blaming shooting woes.

3) Dominate the Boards. Maryland has struggled on the defensive glass (allowing a 33% DReb%, 208th), while UVA has been excellent on offense (41% OReb%, 13th).  Having a chance for second chance points is a really good way to succeed in "Key #2," which was to score points.  The Hoos have been similarly strong in defensive rebounding, and must continue to win that battle.

Prediction:

Vegas now has Virginia as 5 point favorites, while KenPom (which doesn't know about Maryland's injury problems), has a 58-56 UVA win and 60% win probability.

If Maryland is at full strength, I'd be pretty nervous for this one. And I still am, but feel way more confident about locking the Terps down defensively. The game goes back and forth for the first 30 minutes before the Hoos pull away late.  Virginia wins 60-51.