The semifinals of the Big Ten are now set, and upset-lovers on the bottom half of the Big Ten Tournament bracket have had to eat a lot of chalk with all the top seeds advancing. That means that for the third time this season, Maryland and Michigan State will meet on the hardwood. After a double-overtime game in East Lansing and Terrapin dominance in College Park, we're expecting a close game when the two teams square off on the neutral floor of the United Center.
Jake Layman had his best game of the season with 23 points and 12 rebounds, and Maryland blew out Sparty 75-59. After the first game between the two went to two overtimes, this was an early sign that the Terps were ready to kick butt in the Big Ten. This game could be considered a bit of an outlier, as both Travis Trice and Dez Wells -- who you could argue are the best players on their respective teams -- struggled and converted just two field goals each. Michigan State must do a better job defending Melo Trimble this time around. He knocked down six three-pointers and led all scorers with 24 points. On the other hand, don't expect Wells to be so quiet again. He's playing his best ball of the season right now.
When Michigan State has the ball
Although Maryland's Trimble gets more attention because of his freshman status, Trice has been just as effective as a scoring guard lately. With Tum Tum Nairn taking on point guard duties, Trice is freed up to do whatever the offense needs him to. He can get into the lane and draw fouls or spread out the opposing defense and knock down three-pointers. During a stretch against Ohio State last night, he used his pull-up game to take over and give the Spartans some breathing room. With the way Maryland's defense has been this season, transition buckets like that will be key to getting Michigan State on the board.
Of course, let's not forget about Denzel Valentine, either. The junior swingman is a complete player and nearly notched a triple-double against Ohio State. In two games against Maryland this season, though, he's been awfully quiet. Look for Nairn and Trice to get Valentine going early in this one.
When Maryland has the ball
Trimble is one of the toughest players to stop in the paint, so when he gets his three-point game going, the phenom becomes nearly impossible to stop. Michigan State lacks the type of perimeter defenders to keep up with him, so Trimble could have another big game. It will be up to Branden Dawson, Matt Costello, and Gavin Schilling to alter Trimble's path when he penetrates, but that could open up a lot for Layman. Then there's Wells, who has scored at least 20 points in four of his last seven games. Although he doesn't like to shoot the three as much as Trimble, Wells might be even more explosive when he drives into the paint and he's someone who has to be checked on box-outs as well. Sparty can afford to let Trimble get his points if the team is able to slow down Wells with Valentine and another wing defender.
Despite their trio of stars, the Terps ranked 10th in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency this season. A big part of that is their lack of productive role players. Guys like Jared Nickens need to step up and provide an outlet when Wells or Trimble can't find a hole in the defense. The freshman Nickens has proven to be a solid (39 percent) three-point shooter this season and Maryland shouldn't hesitate to get him the ball for spot-up opportunities.
Dawson has struggled through concussion symptoms lately, but the big man was able to play against Ohio State for 30 minutes and came away with 14 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. The most important stat, for this upcoming game, however, was Dawson's three blocks. The senior is listed at 6'6", but he plays a lot bigger and can be intimidating for guards who drive the lane. Maryland has two such guys who would love it for Dawson to get into foul trouble and be unable to help his team on either side of the ball. Dawson might be the most important player on either side today because of his impact on offense as well as defense.