Maryland’s Postseason Goals Require Supporting Upperclassmen to Step Up

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 21st, 2017

Despite losing four starters from last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad, Maryland has bounced back with a surprisingly strong 22-5 (10-4 Big Ten) record and appears poised to earn its third consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. The Terrapins’ this season are once again led by junior star Melo Trimble, who excels in his role as leader and best player, as well as a precocious freshman class that has already produced three new starters (Anthony Cowan, Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter). For this year’s unit to make a run into the second weekend of March Madness, however, head coach Mark Turgeon needs better contributions down the stretch from his supporting upperclassmen.

Maryland needs upperclassmen like Damonte Dodd to thrive as the calendar turns to March. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Turgeon uses the services of five upperclassmen who contribute between 11 to 20 minutes per game. Seniors Damonte Dodd and LG Gill, along with juniors Jaylen Brantley, Jared Nickens and Michal Cekovsky have all had good moments at some point this year. In the Terrapins’ most recent loss to Wisconsin on Sunday, however, the quintet managed only 15 combined points, seven rebounds and three assists. Their lack of rebounding was especially troublesome because Wisconsin logged a +17 advantage on the glass, including a robust 18 that came on the offensive end of the floor. The Badgers’ frontcourt of Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes combined for 41 points and 17 rebounds, while reserve Terrapin bigs Dodd, Cekovsky and Gill did nearly as much fouling (13) as scoring and rebounding. As a contrasting example, these five supporting players contributed an average of 24.5 PPG in recent road wins against Ohio State and Northwestern. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.20.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 20th, 2017

Offense ruled on Saturday with one notable exception. In the biggest game of the weekend, Virginia managed only 41 points as North Carolina dominated the Cavaliers in Chapel Hill. Earlier that day, two other games produced four of the top eight offensive performances in ACC play this season, as Duke edged Wake Forest, 99-94, and Louisville outlasted Virginia Tech, 94-90. In other weekend action, Florida State continued its road woes in falling by 14 points at Pittsburgh, and Georgia Tech grabbed another big home win by holding off Syracuse. Here are the highlights of the weekend around the ACC.

Justin Jackson scored 20 points in North Carolina’s impressive win over Virginia. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: No one is surprised that North Carolina defeated Virginia on Saturday night — after all, the Tar Heels have yet to lose in the Smith Center this season. What was shocking, though, is how easily they dispatched a team that really never gets blown out. The 24-point loss represents the only time that Virginia has been defeated by more than 12 points in the last four years of conference play. Justin Jackson shredded the vaunted Virginia defense for 18 of his 20 points in the first half, continuing a string of amazing consistency in ACC action where he has averaged 19.6 PPG with only one outing topping 22 points. The Tar Heels won with defense and rebounding this weekend, holding the Cavaliers to just 27.8 percent shooting and finishing with a +18 edge on the boards.

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Angry Melo Trimble Keeps Maryland in Big Ten Race

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 16th, 2017

If Wednesday night’s performance at Northwestern is any indication, Melo Trimble’s recent shooting slump is officially over. The junior guard came into Evanston having made only three of his last 22 attempts from the three-point line, but according to Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon, Trimble was “pissed off” by some of the comments made about his shooting prowess. The normally reserved guard responded to the criticism with a career-high 32 points on 12-of-17 shooting (4-of-5 from behind the arc) in yet another big road win. Not only does the 74-64 victory keep Maryland’s shot at a Big Ten regular season title alive, but it also shows as March quickly approaches that the Terrapins have a superstar capable of taking over games. The Terps are now 10-3 in Big Ten play, tied with Purdue for second in the standings and just a half-game back of league-leading Wisconsin. In a coincidental twist of scheduling fate, Maryland travels next to Madison to face the Badgers in the Kohl Center on Sunday afternoon. Keeping in mind that the team is 6-1 on the road in Big Ten action this season, another outstanding performance in an opponent’s building could mean that the Big Ten pole position is well within reach.

Melo Trimble torched Northwestern for a career-high 32 points on Wednesday night. (USA Today Images)

Trimble reminded everyone last night that he can carry the offensive load if needed. With Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ taking turns making headlines as the two best players in the Big Ten, Trimble has quietly ceded center stage while remaining an all-Big Ten caliber player. Advanced metrics do not show much faith in the Terrapins (KenPom ranks Maryland 32nd nationally, for example), but it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore a 22-4 team that is a robust 6-1 against the top 50. Steady play from freshmen Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter has relieved some of the pressure from Trimble, but few teams around college basketball have a legitimate and experienced gamer who has played in two NCAA Tournaments and embraces the big moment. If last night’s performance turns out to be the beginning of a Maryland run into March, it will be because Trimble led the way.

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ACC M5: 02.03.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 3rd, 2017

morning5_ACC

  1. Duke Basketball Report: If nothing else, this ACC basketball season has been wild — JD King takes a run at trying to make sense of the madness. One thing that might have helped is if he had included RPIforecast data on some of the potential bubble teams. There’s still a lot of variance this far out, but the prediction site pegs Wake Forest and Clemson on the right side of 44 and everyone else on the wrong side (at least per the incredibly flawed RPI). Georgia Tech in particular has a big challenge ahead of it to make up for a lackluster non-conference schedule.
  2. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Ken Sugiura looks at Josh Pastner‘s honeymoon season at Georgia Tech, focusing on the thoughts of former players and school legend Bobby Cremins. All are ecstatic with the job Pastner has done so far this season. Former star Dennis Scott pegged the ultimate X-factor for Pastner, which is that he needs to recruit at a high level. Recruiting was the one area where previous head coach Brian Gregory struggled mightily (Paul Hewitt recruited inconsistently and didn’t get consistent buy-in; however, I think he was a better fit than Gregory). Pastner to this point has shown at a minimum that he can exceed low expectations, but his most talented teams at Memphis always failed to live up to the hype.
  3. Washington Post: Another year, another Virginia team that looks like a Final Four contender. Tony Bennett is one of the most consistent coaches in college basketball, but whether because of small sample size or a hidden fatal flaw in his system, his teams simply haven’t achieved their full potential in March. As Ava Wallace’s piece here points out, this year’s team is much younger than the average Bennett team. But thanks to unwavering leadership from London Perrantes (and good recruiting/player development from the coaching staff), Virginia hasn’t missed a beat.
  4. Roanoke Times: While Mark Berman avers that the Hokies are in good position, I’m not entirely sure that’s true. On one hand, Virginia Tech has looked the part of a NCAA Tournament team for most of the year. On the other, its projected RPI isn’t great, and Ken Pomeroy’s and Jeff Sagarin’s ratings are even worse. That’s not a typical recipe for making the Big Dance. That’s not to say that this season is something to scoff at, just that the Hokies’ eye test looks considerably better than the team’s statistical profile. Still, a couple of marquee wins could change things dramatically — the Hokies have shots upcoming against Virginia at home with a game at Louisville.
  5. ESPN: Justin Jackson is living up to the potential many people saw in him over the past couple of years, and the change has largely been in his aggressiveness. He’s still not North Carolina‘s best player (hello Joel Berry), but he’s part of the reason this team has a chance to go deep come March. Roy Williams needs Theo Pinson to get healthy, and at least assuming reports are accurate that he only has an ankle injury, North Carolina is clearly playing the long game by giving him plenty of time to recover.
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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 31st, 2017

We’re now halfway through the conference slate and things still haven’t gotten much clearer in the Big Ten standings. There is a notable top four in Wisconsin, Maryland, Northwestern and Purdue, but nine of the remaining 10 teams reside in the middle of the pack with between three and five conference wins. This has led to quite a few unexpected results, including the weekend haul of Nebraska beating Purdue, Maryland staying undefeated on the road by outlasting a slipping Minnesota squad, and Rutgers very nearly pulling off the biggest upset of the Big Ten season against Wisconsin. Here’s the rest of the weekend’s highlights.

Ethan Happ (right) scored more than half of Wisconsin’s points as it defeated Rutgers on Saturday. (Getty Images).

  • Player of the Weekend: There’s no easier way to show it than to let the numbers tell the story. Ethan Happ scored 32 of Wisconsin’s 61 points in an overtime victory at Madison Square Garden. While most of the Badgers were busily clanking away from the outside (Wisconsin shot an ice-cold 12 percent from three-point range), Happ utilized his quickness advantage over CJ Gettys to cause all kinds of damage around the rim. His defensive efforts also led to four steals (the sixth time the sophomore has had more than three steals in one game this season), as the center appears well on his way to a spot on the Big Ten All-Defensive team for the second year in a row.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: With apologies to Jack McVeigh and the 21 points he notched in leading Nebraska to an important win over Purdue, Iowa’s Brady Ellingson picked up the scoring load for the Hawkeyes in the absence of leading scorer Peter Jok. The injured senior has been a do-everything wing for a struggling team, so expectations were low heading into Saturday’s match-up with Ohio State. Instead, Ellingson scored 17 points on 5-for-7 shooting from three-point range, part of a big surge in Iowa’s bench production (44 points). In easily his most productive game in conference play, the sophomore also added four rebounds and three assists with zero turnovers. Ellingson could become a viable threat off the bench for the Hawkeyes the rest of the season.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 27th, 2017

Here is the latest edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances, where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends, and this week we also analyze the crazy deep-shooting improvement in the league this year. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that means for teams’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Wednesday, January 25.

Current Standings

Louisville leaped to the top of the ACC in efficiency margin thanks to its 106-51 humiliation demolition of Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. The Cardinals now own the league’s best defense, while North Carolina continues to claim the top offensive unit. In what has been a very tough week for top-10 teams around the country, Florida State’s blowout loss at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night may have been the most surprising result. At this point in the season, the Yellow Jackets should be taken seriously — sporting a solid 4-4 record against the second-toughest schedule in the nation’s deepest conference. That win probably also thrust Josh Pastner into the pole position in the race for this year’s ACC Coach of the Year award. No one around the league — including Pastner himself — could have predicted that both North Carolina and Florida State would fall in McCamish Pavilion by double figures.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.16.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 16th, 2017

There were several marquee match-ups in the ACC this weekend, including two monster games on Saturday afternoon as North Carolina overcame some adversity to hand Florida State its first league loss and Louisville ensured that Duke continued its struggles on the road. Later that day, Notre Dame held off Virginia Tech to remain unbeaten in league play, while three schools that entered January with NCAA Tournament aspirations — Clemson, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State — all suffered devastating home defeats to drop to a last place tie in the standings. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Theo Pinson celebrates North Carolina’s big win over Florida State. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: In a league as strong as the ACC this season, sometimes a team must show some collective toughness to pull out a win. That’s exactly what North Carolina did on Saturday afternoon in its impressive 96-83 home victory over a red-hot Florida State squad. Faced with the daunting task of playing the nation’s second tallest team without freshman center Tony Bradley (out with a concussion), the Tar Heels were already short-handed in the paint. With Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks battling foul trouble, Roy Williams was forced to play almost half the game with no true post player. North Carolina not only hung in with the bigger, deeper Seminoles, but the Tar Heels managed to dominate the glass in a surprisingly effective rebounding effort  (+22). Three Tar Heels — Hicks, Joel Berry and Justin Jackson — finished with over 20 points and Theo Pinson turned in a solid overall effort with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three assists.

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North Carolina Readies Itself For ACC Play

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 30th, 2016

North Carolina wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule on Wednesday night by dispatching Monmouth, 102-74, at the Dean Smith Center. Now it is on to conference play, as Roy Williams’ squad visits Georgia Tech tomorrow (Noon ET – ACC Network) in the first of two ACC road trips. It has been an interesting season for the Tar Heels to this point. They started off by winning their first eight games, including a dominant performance in the Maui Invitational, that led ESPN’s Jay Bilas, among others, to proclaim North Carolina as the best team in college basketball. Williams’ team has taken a hit since with a road loss at Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge followed by a neutral court defeat to Kentucky in the Game of the Season. Now, on the eve of ACC play, let’s examine the Tar Heels’ prospects going forward.

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

The obvious strength of this squad is in the frontcourt. With seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks backed by solid freshman Tony Bradley, North Carolina may have a post trio as good as any in college basketball. Despite losing some of his efficiency with greater usage, Meeks has been outstanding in taking on a primary offensive role as well as on the boards at both ends of the floor. Hicks was expected to make a big splash as a first-time starter and he has delivered on that promise. The concern with him is that he has not performed nearly as well against tough competition — sporting a 101.5 Offensive Rating against the Tar Heels’ best four opponents — versus 118.4 in all games. Junior forward Justin Jackson looks like a potential All-ACC first-teamer right now. He converted 6-of-9 attempts from deep en route to a 28-point night against Monmouth, and unlike Hicks, Jackson has come through in big games — averaging 23.2 PPG against the Tar Heels’ five highest rated foes. Bradley, an important substitute off the bench, may have the most professional potential of the bunch. He currently leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and has displayed great hands and advanced footwork for a youngster.

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Evaluating Maryland’s Freshman Duo: Anthony Cowan & Justin Jackson

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 27th, 2016

Losing experienced seniors such as Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon was a big concern for Maryland heading into this season. Without Layman’s energy and Sulaimon’s offensive versatility, the Terrapins needed the talented trio of Robert Carter, Diamond Stone and Melo Trimble to stick around campus. Trimble’s sole decision to return saved whatever was left of Mark Turgeon’s roster, but considering all the key personnel losses, Turgeon has to be pleased with a 12-1 record heading into today’s Big Ten opener against Illinois. The primary reason that the Terps have not dropped off the cliff has been the surprisingly consistent contributions from freshmen Anthony Cowan and Justin Jackson.

Anthony Cowan's emergence at the point guard position should help Melo Trimble's offensive production.

Anthony Cowan’s emergence at the point guard position should help Melo Trimble’s offensive production. (Getty)

Cowan’s reliability in handling the ball allows Trimble to roam around to find his shot. This dynamic was blatantly obvious in the second half against Charlotte last week when Trimble nailed multiple long-range shots that were assisted by the freshman. Cowan is averaging a team-high 3.7 assists per game, and while his 2.5 turnovers per contest is too many for a player getting over 70 percent of the available minutes at the position, he will improve as he gains more experience. During Maryland’s one-point wins over Georgetown and Oklahoma State, Cowan took some of the pressure off Trimble by averaging 11 points per contest. Another impressive aspect of the young point guard’s game is his ability to get to the free throw line — he attempted 23 total free throws against Georgetown, Charlotte and Oklahoma State, already showing his maturity in understanding there’s more to the game than long jump shots. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Feast Week Winners and Losers

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 28th, 2016

After 10 days of games in eight different tournaments, the picture as to how things will play out in this season’s Big Ten has become clearer. It is still somewhat murky and disjointed, but Feast Week gave us some insights as to the ceilings and floors for each squad. Here’s a brief look at which teams helped their cause last week and those that came away looking like they still have considerable work to do.

Winners

  • Maryland: While not playing in the most prestigious of events, Maryland was able to pick up wins over Richmond and Kansas State in the Barclays Center Classic. Neither were huge resume boosters, but they should help come March rather than hurt. The Terps pounded the offensive backboards all weekend, snatching an average of 40 percent of their own misses in the two victories. The most significant aspect of Maryland’s performances was that Mark Turgeon’s freshmen trio of Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson all played heavy crunch time minutes in a pair of tight games. Their continued improvement will largely determine the arc of the Terrapins’ season.
Justin Jackson helped lead Maryland to two wins in Brooklyn last weekend. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports).

Justin Jackson helped lead Maryland to two wins in Brooklyn last weekend. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports).

  • Michigan: The shine from the Wolverines’ two wins at the beginning of Feast Week lost some of its luster when they lost at South Carolina last Wednesday. Concentrating solely on their play in the 2k Classic, however, Michigan looked like it could be a serious threat to finish in the top three of the Big Ten. DJ Wilson’s defensive versatility was on full display, as he successfully guarded almost every position on the floor. The Wolverines held both Marquette and SMU under 1.00 point per possession and under 39 percent shooting from the field. They also hit 22 three-pointers and paired stellar outside shooting with their typical runs that led to easy buckets. Overall, Feast Week was a net plus for John Beilein’s team.

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