The Maryland Terrapins open their NCAA Tournament bid with a Thursday matchup against the Xavier Musketeers in Orlando. Both the 6th seeded Terrapins and 11th seeding Musketeers enter the dance limping.
For Xavier, the wheels began falling off after star guard Edmond Sumner tore his ACL back in January. The sophomore was averaging 15 points and 4.3 rebounds a game, as well as a team leading 5 assists.
Entering the Big East Tournament, the Musketeers lost six straight, sandwiched between three victories over the 9-23 DePaul Blue Demons. After notching a win over 18th ranked Butler, though, Xavier punched their ticket.
Maryland, too, capped their regular season with inadequacy. In their final 5 games, the Terrapins went 2-3, including a home victory against Michigan State by a last second Melo Trimble three. Maryland took that momentum into the Big Ten Tournament and promptly lost to Northwestern.
While Xavier plays the role of scrappy competitors without their leader, Maryland carries the weight of questions over their high seed. In what should be a tight contest, let’s look at a key matchup.
-Melo Trimble vs. Trevon Bluiett
Xavier was gashed by the Sumner injury, and had it not been for the stellar play of Trevon Bluiett, the Musketeers might be prepping for the NIT. The junior guard is averaging a team high 18.1 points, to go along with 5.8 rebounds, good for second on the team.
Bluiett is dangerous from all areas of the court. He is most effective as a slasher, and often attacks the middle of the paint. He also employs a lethal shot from three, shooting over 36%. In 16 games this season the guard has scored over 20 points, including a 40-point effort in a road loss to Cincinnati.
Bluiett is also dangerous on the glass, as his rebounding ability allows the team to run smaller lineups and still be effective on the boards. Xavier ranks second in the Big East in both rebounds a game at 13.6, as well as offensive rebounds with 12.2.
Standing in his way is Maryland guard Melo Trimble. The junior possesses an incredible knack for attacking the rim, and does a tremendous job of finding open teammates when the defense collapses. When Trimble is on, he demonstrates top level talent. In addition to his game winning three against the Spartans, Trimble has scored at least 20 points in 13 games. In Maryland’s 74-64 win over Northwestern on February 15th, the star guard scored a career high 32 points on just 17 shots.
More than anything, Trimble exemplifies an ability to raise his game in big moments. In last year’s tournament, Trimble averaged 20 points, 2.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds en route to a sweet 16 appearance. As Maryland plays three freshman big minutes, tournament experience will play a huge factor. With Trimble, the Terrapins have that.
In Maryland’s last two opening NCAA Tournament appearances, the Terrapins have won by a combined 8 points. Coupling that narrow margin of victory with a high seed widely regarded as undeserved, Mark Turgeon’s squad will need to be careful. If Trimble gets going and the team can limit Bluiett, the Terrapins should cruise to victory. If not, Maryland might be headed back to College Park early.