Franimal Planet: Iowa vs. Maryland Preview

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The NIT semifinals are upon us. Here's what you need to know.

Iowa (24-12) vs. Maryland (25-12)

Date: April 2, 2013
Time: 8:00 p.m. CST
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York City
Television: ESPN2
Line: Iowa -3

We have officially entered uncharted waters. If the Iowa basketball Twitter account is to be believed, Tuesday's game will be the latest Iowa has ever played, surpassing a March 28, 1921 game. If memory serves correctly, it is also the first game Iowa has played in New York City since [redacted]'s second game in charge. In any circumstance, Iowa basketball in April is an extremely uncommon occurrence, and should be treated as such.

So, Maryland. Mark Turgeon, who coached at Wichita State and Texas A&M, now coaches at Maryland. He has built them in the form of his best teams at his prior destinations: Big and long on the front line, big and long at the guard positions, and especially big and long on the bench. Maryland only starts one player over 6'6, but they play much bigger than that, and they have a parade of young 6'8-ish guys on the bench to throw at Iowa if necessary. They are young -- two seniors and one junior in the rotation, and only the junior (exquisitely-monikered guard Pe'Shon Howard) plays more than 20 minutes a game -- and can be forced into mistakes that young teams make: Maryland is one of the nation's worst teams at turnover margin, the Terps get too many shots blocked, they don't get to the free throw line enough and are ineffective when they do. They also play exquisite shot defense and rebound the hell out of the ball.

We might as well talk about Alex Len, the Terps' 7'1 sophomore center from the Ukraine. In his first full season as a starter, Len has averaged 11.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game. Those numbers are somewhat pedestrian for a potential NBA lottery pick, but only without context. When Len can stay on the court, he can control the paint at both ends, but Len is extremely foul-prone, especially lately. He has averaged just 22 minutes in Maryland's three NIT games, which in turn has limited him to 9.3 points per game. Denver -- Denver! -- took him completely out of the picture by drawing a third foul on him early in the second half and a fourth with 12 minutes to go. Len only played 14 minutes total, scoring five points and grabbing three boards. If Iowa can follow that template -- and if there is one thing Iowa can do, it's draw interior contact -- it can neutralize Len and open up the paint.

Maryland isn't a one-man show by any means, of course. Swingman Dez Wells is probably their most effective offensive player, leading the team in scoring (13.2 ppg) and second in assists (3.0 apg). Wells is also turnover-prone, however, handing the ball over 2.9 times per game for a team that, as a whole, is one of the most turnover-heavy groups in the nation. Eric May will likely draw the Wells assignment, with specific orders to harass him into as many mistakes as possible. The same will go for Devyn Marble, who will likely handle 6'5 sophomore guard Nick Faust (9.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.2 tpg). The aforementioned Howard isn't much of a scoring threat, but is a solid distributor. The fifth Terp starter, 6'1 freshman guard Seth Allen, is a competent outside threat and, like Howard, can operate the offense when needed.

(Note: Allen broke his hand in a practice before Maryland's quarterfinal against Alabama and is doubtful for Tuesday; Mitchell, mentioned below, started Maryland's last game in his place, but the oh-so-close-to-awesomely-named Jake Layman played most of Allen's minutes and is probably the starter Tuesday.)

The Terps are extremely dependent on the two-point shot. Maryland shoots 52.2% from two, and is getting 57% of its points inside the arc. This math, and this math alone, is why their offense has been so effective all season. Maryland's primary perimeter threat is senior guard Logan Aronhalt, who leads the team in three-point attempts despite playing just 13 minutes a game, and shoots 43% from behind the arc. Wells and Faust can also be effective from distance, though both are streaky.

Maryland is content to let teams handle the ball, mostly because their shot defense is so good and their rebounding edge so pronounced; essentially, they let you take as much time as you want to shoot, because they will make every shot difficult and rebound your miss. That takes one of Iowa's primary offensive issues -- perimeter turnovers -- off the table, a huge concession given that Anthony Clemmons, and not Mike Gesell, will likely be playing alongside Marble. Of course, it places another -- consistent shooting -- front and center. If Iowa shoots as it did against Virginia, it wins this game. If they don't, the Hawkeyes are going to have to straight-up beat Maryland on the glass, which means they're going to have to get Len out of the game and find a big body to put on Charles Mitchell, a 6'8, 260-lb. rebounding machine Maryland deploys from the bench.

A home game in college basketball is often about whether you can force your opponent out of its comfort zone mentally. A road game frequently comes down to whether you can adjust to what your opponent and environment are forcing you to do. Neutral-site games are weird, though. They are far less about one team dictating terms that the other will follow, and far more about which team can make the other do what it wants them to do. Iowa wants Maryland to turn it over on the perimeter and allow fast break opportunities for easy scores. Maryland wants to use its slashers to get in the paint and open shots for Len and their other shooters, which they routinely make. These two things are not mutually exclusive, and I imagine both will happen frequently. On the other end of the court, Iowa wants to drive directly at Len and force him into foul trouble. Maryland wants Iowa to settle for bad jump shots and concede the interior to Len and their rebounders. With Marble playing as Marble has been playing, and Iowa's quartet of bigs -- especially Aaron White -- targeting Len for foul trouble, I think Iowa's version of events is far more likely to occur. And if Iowa wins at one end and fights to a draw at the other, Iowa wins this game.

Welcome to the Big Ten, Maryland. Go Hawks.

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