The Maryland Terrapins have been one of the toughest teams in the entire country to figure out. According to KenPom, Maryland is rated as the luckiest team in the entire country, and have won a remarkable number of close games. Mark Turgeon is hoping his luck can bring the Terps into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland finished the season at 27-6 overall and 14-4 in the Big Ten. This was good enough to earn them a 4 seed and a matchup with the #13 seed Valparaiso Crusaders. Valpo finished the year at 28-5 overall and won the Horizon League with a 13-3 record behind strong play from Alec Peters. Peters, a 6'9 sophomore, has been phenomenal for the Crusaders all year, averaging 17 points and 7 rebounds. He was held in check in the Horizon League championship game, scoring 9 points on 3-13 shooting in a win over Green Bay. But Valparaiso's defense was so good in limiting Keifer Sykes and Green Bay that the Phoenix only mustered 44 points. Maryland is significantly better than Green Bay, so expect the Terps to have a much easier time on the offensive end.
Besides for Peters, the Crusaders have a short rotation of players who all play supporting roles. Guard Darien Walker is second on the team in scoring with nearly 11 points per game, and Tevonn Walker is just behind him at 10. Both guards will need to have big scoring days alongside Peters to keep the Crusaders in the game. In the frontcourt, Vashil Fernandez is a gamechanger at both ends of the floor. He averages 3 blocks per game, good for 8th in the nation, and can throw down monstrous dunks at the opposite end of the floor. Maryland starts Damonte Dodd at center, but he is not nearly the type of gamechanger that Fernandez is.
In the end, Maryland has too much size and athleticism at the forward positions and a far more talented backcourt. This is a game where Jake Layman, Dez Wells and Melo Trimble could thrive, and even someone like Evan Smotrycz could be asked to perform the daunting task of guarding Peters. Valparaiso doesn't do anything spectacularly well, and this plays right into Maryland's hands.
If the Terps beat the Crusaders, they will likely be faced with West Virginia, one of the fastest and most hectic teams in the country. Bob Huggins implements a vicious press, and the Mountaineers routinely play 11 guys in their rotation. Their leader, pending his health, is Juwan Staten. Staten is a transfer from Dayton where he played his freshman year, but has thrived since arriving in Morgantown. He has made the First-team All-Big 12 each of the last two seasons, and is averaging 15 points and 6 assists for West Virginia.
While Staten is a known entity, figuring out which Mountaineer will catch fire on the day is anyone's guess. Nine Mountaineers average between 13 and 25 minutes a game, and two others have factored into the rotation at times this season. This allows Huggins to keep his players fresh, but it doesn't mean they're not talented. The most intriguing player for Maryland to stop is Devin Williams, a 6'9 sophomore with soft hands and a great touch around the basket. Williams is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country, and will look to use his strength against Layman and Smotrycz in the frontcourt.
Another intriguing Mountaineer player is Jonathan Holton, a bulky forward who can impact both ends of the floor. West Virginia also brings Gary Browne off the bench, a capable shooter, and a slew of players who can knock down the long ball. West Virginia's style of play allows them to get back into games, but can also allow teams like Maryland with capable shooters to get on huge runs if the press is not working. Melo Trimble and Dez Wells will be massively important to the success of Maryland, and I think the Terps will ultimately pull this one out.
If Maryland is able to survive the first weekend against two very capable teams, they will more than likely be faced with the undisputed #1 team in the entire country, the Kentucky Wildcats. If you've been living under a rock, Kentucky is 34-0, starts a legitimately NBA-sized starting 5, and has 9 McDonald's All Americans to boast. John Calipari has done away with the platoon system since Alex Poythress tore his ACL, but it hasn't slowed the Wildcats down in any way.
Their length, size and swarming defense make even the crispest offenses look ordinary at best. Maryland, a relatively tall team, would look small as Kentucky starts 6'9 Trey Lyles, 6'11 Karl-Anthony Towns and 7'0 Willie Cauley-Stein. Cauley-Stein is the biggest gamechanger on the Wildcats roster, as he is one of the best rim protectors in the country and finds his offense without plays being called for him. He had a disappointing first two seasons in Lexington and broke his foot last season, unable to play in Kentucky's final games, but has responded tremendously.
Off the bench, Kentucky has two of the best guards in the country in Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. College basketball pundits have asked Calipari to start these two freshmen in place of twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, but both have been impact players off the bench. The Cats also play 7'0 Dakari Johnson who can change the game at both ends of the floor, and forward Marcus Lee, a player who Big Ten (especially Michigan fans) remember well as he dunked all over the Wolverines in the Elite Eight last season.
If Maryland does make it to the Sweet Sixteen, it seems their run will end here. A handful of teams have the firepower to hang with Kentucky, and even that might not be enough to stop the Cats' quest for 40-0. Melo Trimble and Dez Wells would have to play the games of their lives, and Kentucky would have to shoot a horrid percentage from the field and 3-point line. In the end, Kentucky should and likely will win this game, ending the run for Maryland.