The magical season continues on for the Northwestern Wildcats.
With their first ever NCAA Tournament berth closing in, the Wildcats didn’t leave anything to chance by dominating Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday night. Doing so earned them a spot in the quarterfinal against the #3 seed, the Maryland Terrapins.
The Terrapins finished 2-3 in their final five games of the season but will look to bounce back in their own backyard with the tournament being held in Washington, D.C.
These two teams played once this season, with Maryland winning at Northwestern 74-64, though Scottie Lindsey did not play for the Wildcats.
Here are some of the key factors to watch as the game unfolds tomorrow evening, with the tip scheduled for 8:55pm ET.
1. Which star guard will win the match-up?
This game will feature two of the very best guards that the league has to offer in Bryant McIntosh and Melo Trimble. Both are the definite catalysts for everything their teams look to do offensively, which certainly will lead to the individual match-up playing a huge part in the outcome.
While it isn’t likely that they’ll guard each other on a majority of possessions, if both can operate efficiently, we will be in for a great basketball game. If one team can manage to contain the other teams catalyst and cut off the head of the snake, it will go a long way to leading to a win.
2. Who will do the “little things” better?
In tournament games, two things become amplified way more than regular season play: turnovers and free throw shooting.
The statistics point to Northwestern being a much more efficient team offensively, as they come in ranked 13th nationally in turnover rate at 15.4%. The Maryland Terrapins, meanwhile, sit at 209th nationally with a rate of 19%. While less than four percent doesn’t seem like a huge difference, in a tournament atmosphere where every possession is amplified, that four percent could make a huge difference.
The Wildcats shot 75% from the free throw line as a team during the regular season, while the Terrapins shot 70.1% as a team. Let’s go back to the point of the two star guards, though. If there are two guys you’d want at the free throw line with a game on the line, however, there aren’t many you’d probably pick before Bryant McIntosh and Melo Trimble.
Maryland struggles with free throw shooting depth, as they only have three guys who play more than 12 minutes per game shooting over 70%. So, perhaps the key for them as much as getting to the free throw line is getting the right guys to the free throw line.
3. Who will be the “X-Factor”?
Both teams have players capable of having a breakout game and making you think, “How did I not know he would have a huge game?” For Northwestern, names come to mind like Dererk Pardon or Scottie Lindsey. Could Pardon be the man who gets 19 points and 22 rebounds like he did against Nebraska? Granted, they aren’t playing Nebraska, but if he gets a double-double, he’s exceeded individual expectations.
If you look at Maryland, will one of their stud freshman have a huge game? Will it be Damonte Dodd dominating the interior with that huge frame of his? Justin Jackson has become one of the more versatile and difficult players to defend in the conference, and while he may not be your typical x-factor, he’s certainly capable of a big breakout game.
Will Kevin Huerter get hot like he’s certainly capable of and make five or six threes for the Terrapins?
Someone is going to have a big game that you may not have expected, and that players team will most likely win this game, so the question is who?