Preview: LIU faces tough challenge at Maryland

LIU is 0-2 and the games don’t get any easier. The Blackbirds head to the Comcast Center in College Park, MD to take on the Terrapins tonight.

Four Key Questions:

In order to get some insight into Maryland I asked a few questions to Maryland blog Testudo Times.

1) There seems to be a lot of talent on Maryland this season. One of the best is center Alex Len. What are your expectations for him this season?

Judging by the first two games of the season, Len’s a completely different player from last year, stronger both mentally and physically. He’s always had the tools to be a star at this level, from his legit 7-1 frame to a surprising amount of skill and athleticism for someone so long, and he seemed to put it all together last week in Brooklyn. But I’d guess that he won’t perform all season like he did against Kentucky; he struggled with consistency last year, and of course as teams realize Maryland has no perimeter threats they’ll do more to clog the lane and deny Len the ball. The trajectory of his season will be about how he’s developed his mentality, from last year’s inconsistent gentle giant to a hopefully more consistent, more assertive figure this season. We saw glimpses of the latter against Kentucky; in the exhibition against IUP and to a lesser extent against Morehead State, he seemed to be a passenger at times again, which was exacerbated by those teams furiously trying to deny him the ball. He has everything he needs to be a 20-10 player, without a doubt in my mind, but it’s probably more likely that he averages 15 and 8 – not bad numbers, of course, and probably still enough for him to be selected in the first half of the NBA Draft come spring.

2) How did the addition of Dez Wells change the makeup of this team? Mark Turgeon mentioned post the Kentucky game that they hadn’t implemented everything that included Wells because of his waiver situation. How much does Wells factor into Maryland’s game plan now?

The biggest change was the added experience. Wells was on a Sweet 16 team last season at Xavier, so even though he was a sixth man there he’s been through the fires. For a team with only one really experienced player – senior power forward and Brooklyn native James Padgett – bringing in a relative veteran like that was huge. Having him in the starting five instead of clearly-not-ready freshmen Jake Layman or Seth Allen is big, as is the ability to push the rotation to ten men.

But it’s still uncertain what type of impact he’ll have offensively. He was an effective option at X but never really a torch-the-nets, fill-it-up scorer, especially not as a perimeter shooter. He wasn’t particularly productive against either Kentucky or Morehead State – he looked a bit too hyped-up, which is understandable for his first few games – but Maryland really needs a go-to perimeter option to complement Len. Whether or not that’s Wells, I don’t know. Hopefully he gets more used to the offense as time goes along; I wouldn’t expect him to get more shots, necessarily, but hopefully higher-quality ones that take advantage of his athleticism.

3) This is Mark Turgeon’s second season in charge of Maryland. How do fans feel about the current direction of the program?

Optimistic. I actually have a theory that they’d be optimistic with almost anyone in charge, simply because the fanbase is so starved for success, at least as long as the coach didn’t look like a walking disaster. (See: Edsall, Randy.) But Turgeon most certainly doesn’t look like a walking disaster, so fans are buying in; in fact, he actually does look quite impressive. He hasn’t blown the doors off recruiting with a bunch of five-stars, but that’s not his M.O.; he got his long-term foundational recruits that he’ll coach up, he made a few clever pick-ups in the offseason with Wells, Evan Smotrycz, and Logan Aronhalt (formerly at Albany), and he has the team buying into his vision. This team has a very talented roster right now and they’ll likely make the NCAA Tournament, despite no one thinking this team would get close to the tourney about 18 months ago. He has them in that region already, and the future only looks brighter. There’s a lot to like about what he’s brought to the program.

4) Who do you think is the key player in this game for Maryland? What are you expectations for what happens at the Comcast Center on Friday?

It could be either point guard Pe’Shon Howard or swingman Nick Faust, but I’ll say Faust. He looked like a big-time scorer in the second half of last season, and if the first two games have shown us anything, it’s that Maryland really, really needs a big-time scorer on the perimeter. They don’t need 20 a game from him, but they do need an efficient 15 or so to take the pressure off Len. He started to get some of his swagger back against Morehead State, and it seems likely that he’ll continue to do so.

Like any almost team hosting a mid-major at their own place, the expectation is that Maryland will win. LIU’s a very good mid-major program but they seem to have struggled in the first two games; meanwhile, this is a Maryland team unlike too many we’ve seen in College Park in recent years. There’s so much athleticism, depth, and hustle that they can execute pretty poorly, like they did against Morehead State, and still win going away. As long as they show up mentally, they’ll be able to just outclass a lot of teams, not only because they have talent but because they have talent that gets after it and works hard. They’ll probably drop a mid-major game this year they don’t really show up to, for whatever reason, but with Kentucky still fresh in their minds I doubt that’ll be so soon. After seeing the performances of the first two weeks, the expectation probably has to be a double-digit Maryland win, with the potential to be more if they can start hitting open shots on offense.

Three Key Stats to Watch:

  1. Alex Len’s point total – If he’s dominating inside then LIU has almost no chance.
  2. LIU’s free throw total – The Blackbirds will have to get to the line to score consistently against Maryland.
  3. Maryland’s offensive rebound percentage – The total might not be that high (because UMD might not miss a ton of shots), but the Terrapins have been great on the offensive glass early in the season and LIU can’t afford to let them extend possessions.

Two Key Players:

  • Nick Faust, Maryland – See the Q&A, but UMD needs a perimeter scorer. Can he be it?
  • C.J. Garner, LIU Brooklyn – The Maryland native needs to help balance out the LIU attack. Can he keep defenses from keying on Olasewere and Boyd?

One Pomeroy Prediction: I think Ken’s being generous when I see LIU as having a 24% chance to win in an 84-75 game. We’ll see if the Blackbirds can keep it close.

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