The ACC in the NIT: Previewing Maryland vs. IowaPosted by KCarpenter on April 2nd, 2013
Raise your hand if you had Maryland as the last ACC team still playing basketball in April. Sure, the Terrapins are only playing in the NIT, but for Mark Turgeon’s crew that means something. In Maryland’s most recent win against Alabama, the team showed flashes of the talent that many had predicted for it headed into the season. Specifically, Alex Len, who has disappeared for long stretches during the season, dominated the Crimson Tide on his way to a 15-point, 13-rebound and five-block performance to lead his team to a one-point win. The inconsistent Maryland that muddled its way through the conference schedule seems to have mostly disappeared. It’s a good thing too, because Iowa, the Terps’ next foe tonight in Madison Square Garden, is a bit of a ringer.
According to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, the Hawkeyes currently rate as the 21st best team in the country, largely on the basis of its 19th-ranked defense (Maryland ranks 48th and 33rd, respectively). By these measures, Iowa is head and shoulders above its NIT fellows, and easily the best team to not make the NCAA Tournament this season. Like Maryland, Iowa sometimes struggles to shoot the ball consistently, but it plays such tough defense and rebounds so tenaciously that poor shooting is unlikely to sink the Hawkeyes. Unfortunately for the Terps, one of their greatest strengths is vulnerable to Iowa.
Aaron White is a genius when it comes to getting to the free throw line and drawing fouls. Only four players in all of Division I college basketball are more effective than White at earning trips to the charity stripe. White draws an impressive 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes while his teammate Roy Devyn Marble manages 5.3 per game. On the other side, Len commits 4.1 fouls in 40 minutes. His freshman understudies, Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare, also foul with astounding regularity: Mitchell commits 4.7 per game and Cleare a staggering 6.1 per contest. Against the impressive foul-drawing magic of White, it seems likely that Maryland could very well be forced to play significant chunks of the game without its otherwise significant size advantage.
The 7’1″ Len is (literally) a big advantage against the small Hawkeyes, but his height does little good if Len is forced to ride the pine due to foul trouble. If Len can stay on the court and Maryland can avoid fouling all the time, the Terps are capable of holding Iowa to a grinding halt. Outside of drawing fouls and its reasonably impressive offensive rebounding, Iowa’s offense might well begin to trend toward stagnancy. If Maryland can manage some semblance of a reliable offense other than allowing Dez Wells to chuck up contested mid-range and long jumpers, the Terrapins have a real chance of beating good Iowa team. It’s easy to sneer at the NIT, but advancing to the championship game would mean a lot for a team that has struggled to find an identity in the wake of Gary Williams.