Iowa (16-3) vs. Maryland (17-3)
Time: 6:00 p.m. CT
Location: Xfinity Center
Line: Maryland -3
When Iowa has the Ball
Note: All numbers in this piece come from Kenpom or Sports Reference. Additionally, ratings in the four factors charts are scaled so that 100 = average. Thus, above 100 is above average, while below 100 is below average. For example, Iowa's 109 shooting rating means that their eFG% has been 9% better than the national average this year, while Maryland's 111 means they have been 11% better at contesting opponent shots this season.
On this side of the ball, Iowa boasts the #8 offense in the country and the best in the Big Ten. (Better than Indiana no matter if you use the raw or opponent-adjusted numbers.) We all know the Hawkeyes do two things really well this season, and those are put the ball through the net with great efficiency and hardly ever turning it over. Iowa has had some issues making their two-point field goals in Big Ten play (likely due to the quality of interior defenses they've played), but they have more than made up for that by shooting the long ball with improved accuracy.
In the other two areas, Iowa has been up and down this season. Their free throw rate has shot up during Big Ten play, but a big part of that is likely due to the fact that they have been in the lead at the end of every game and their opponents have decided to foul them for the final few minutes. And in rebounding, Iowa hasn't been totally awful when you consider that four of their first seven games have come against two of the best rebounding teams in the conference in Purdue and Michigan State. And even when they have allowed offensive rebounds, opposing teams haven't been able to capitalize on those second chance opportunities very well.
As for Maryland, their defense also does two things really well. The first being that they contest shots at a way above average rate. Their usual rotation includes two forwards who stand 6'9" and a rotation of centers that stand 6'11" or taller, and they are only allowing opponents to make 44% of their two-point field goal attempts in conference play. That, along with the lack of free throws Maryland allows, could be an issue for Iowa if the three-point shot isn't falling.
The other two areas for Maryland could be helpful for Iowa, though. With the lack of turnovers that Maryland forces (and the amount they give away), Iowa could be in for another good day in points off of turnovers. Additionally, despite having a big starting lineup, Maryland is only a bit above average when it comes to grabbing defensive rebounds. So guys like Adam Woodbury, Jarrod Uthoff, Nicholas Baer, and Dom Uhl could have some second chance opportunities in this one.
Now, the big match up on this side of the ball will likely be Jarrod Uthoff vs. Robert Carter Jr./Jake Layman. Maryland is one of the few teams in the league that has two 6'9" guys that could potentially guard Uthoff. Carter might be a better option to defend Uthoff down low, but despite how athletic he is, I'm curious to see if he is capable of defending Uthoff when he does venture out to the wing. If this does happen, this may be another Caleb Swanigan situation where Uthoff drains threes and then takes him off the dribble when he tries to get up on him on the perimeter. Now, if Mark Turgeon decides that Carter isn't capable of defending Uthoff on the perimeter, he could opt to move Layman to the four spot, as he is more of a perimeter guy than Carter is. If that's the case, Uthoff may be more likely to try and post him up. That would also mean one of Carter or Stone would probably have to be on the bench in that situation, because I don't think Maryland wants Carter trying to chase Peter Jok around at the three spot, so he would have to grab some pine or move to the five position. Unless Maryland goes the Purdue route and puts their best defender on Jok, having to adjust their defense to shut down Uthoff could be an advantage for Iowa.
When Maryland has the Ball
The Terps have an offense that has plenty of weapons, but they are also a team that has had some shooting issues since Big Ten play started. They are still converting inside the arc and at the free throw line at a high clip, but their three-point shooting is at just 32% in their first eight conference games. The main issue there is that Melo Trimble and Jared Nickens have combined to make just 21 their 81 three-point tries against Big Ten teams. Rasheed Sulaimon (41%), Jake Layman (37%), and Robert Carter Jr. (47%) are still making their threes, however, so it's not like they are completely incapable of shooting from long distance right now.
But that's about all that Maryland does above average on this end of the court.
Thanks to a huge drop off in fouls drawn this season from Melo Trimble, Diamond Stone is really the only one that gets to the line with ridiculous frequency. And, again, despite their big lineup, they are just average when it comes to hauling in offensive boards. These two factors alone, should be helpful for Iowa on this end of the court. But the biggest advantage here for the Hawkeyes comes in turnovers, as Maryland is 250th in the country in turnovers and 13th in the Big Ten, while Iowa is 94th in the country and 3rd in the Big Ten in forcing them.
If Maryland continues to struggle from outside, then I think the zone defense Iowa will show on at least a handful of possessions (if not more) may be extra potent in this contest. However, even if Maryland is shooting well, Iowa may still have the advantage on this side of the ball, due to the other three factors. I'm cautiously optimistic on this end of the court because of some of Maryland's recent offensive struggles.
Style of Play
On average, Maryland plays at a pace that results in about two fewer possessions per game than Iowa. Their offense holds the ball for about a second longer per possession than the Hawks, and their defense forces their opponents to hold the ball longer than Iowa, too. But don't think that doesn't mean Maryland is afraid of transition. If you watch the Terps enough, you will see plenty of plays where Melo Trimble gets out on the break for a layup, or where he and Sulaimon will take a quick three if they are open.
When it comes to the types of shots they take, Maryland attempts a larger percentage of their shots from long range than Iowa does.
Of course, Iowa is converting those three-point attempts into actual points at a much higher rate for the season and especially in conference play. But Maryland is still scoring the ball well inside and at the free throw line, so it's not as if their three-point issues have been completely detrimental.
But when it comes to scoring, we can see the results of Maryland's recent lack of outside shooting. They may be above average in the number of threes they attempt, but their poor team shooting from out there in Big Ten play has made it so they only get an average amount of points from those shots. Iowa, meanwhile, is in the opposite boat. They take slightly fewer than the Division I norm, but their efficiency from downtown recently is making it so they get an above average chunk of value off those shots. In other words, Iowa is not a team that many others want to get in a shootout with.
Players to Watch
Note: A quick reminder on how this chart works. The horizontal axis represents a player's usage rate, while the vertical axis represents a player's offensive rating. The circle size represents playing time (bigger means more time on the court). This chart should tell us how involved in the offense the player is, how efficient they are in doing so, and in how many minutes per game do they accomplish all of this.
Melo Trimble is the guy to watch on offense for Maryland. He's scoring 14.5 points per game and handing out 5.6 assists in about 32 minutes of play every night. His recent struggles from long range have dropped his offensive efficiency a bit in conference play, but he's still converting from closer to the basket and he's still ensuring that everyone on the offense gets the ball in the position to score. Trimble's ability to not only pass like a traditional point guard, but to also shoot and score the ball make him difficult to defend in the pick and roll. Similar to what Michigan does on offense, Maryland utilizes a ton of ball screens for Trimble and he has so many options he can kill you with off of every one.
First, if the defense can't fight through the screen, or doesn't help, or doesn't switch, etc. he can blow by for an easy layup.
If the defense cuts off his lane to the basket, he also has the ability to pull up and knock down the three.
Maryland's offense is also loaded with plenty of other scoring options, so if you focus solely on taking away Trimble, he can still find guys like Diamond Stone, Robert Carter Jr., or any other big man on the roster when they roll to the basket.
And if that wasn't enough, guys like Jake Layman or the aforementioned Carter Jr. can kill you on the pick and pop.
I gave four examples off the ball screen because stopping or limiting points from that is essential in slowing down Maryland's offense. I expect Iowa to play Trimble and the ball screens the same way they did Michigan and everyone else. They will hedge that screen hard and try to take away Trimble attacking or shooting the three. That will force the defender who hedges to recover quickly, but it will also require the rest of the defense to help out on the roll/pop man by rotating and getting themselves into a good helping position. This strategy has worked more often than not for Iowa this year, but we did see Michigan get quite a few baskets down low in the first half off the screen and roll. Of course, that also kept them from hoisting a bunch of threes, and if Iowa is hitting their threes on offense the whole 3 > 2 thing may actually allow Iowa to build a lead.
Outside of the ball screens, Maryland will also run Trimble off a host of baseline and down screens to get him an open look from deep. That means both Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons will need to be prepared to fight through those, to ensure that he doesn't get many open looks.
After Trimble, the dynamic big man duo of Diamond Stone and Robert Carter Jr. are each averaging 13.2 points per game this season for the Terps. In conference play, that total is actually up to 16.1 for Stone, so let's talk about him first.
At 6'11" and 255 lbs., Stone is a freshman who could easily be a one-and-done guy in college. Despite being in high school at this time last year, he has had little trouble adjusting to the college game. He currently uses the most possessions out of anyone on the team when he is on the court, and it's not because he turns the ball over a lot. Instead, in the 23 minutes per game he is playing against Big Ten foes, he is taking about a quarter of his team's shots and converting at a high rate near the basket. Whether that be in the pick and roll posting his man up, he is very involved in the offense. Not only that, but Kenpom has him as the 17th best offensive rebounder in the country, and he is by far the best player on Maryland's team when it comes to getting points off of putbacks. Keeping him off the offensive glass would go a long way toward limiting second chance points for Maryland.
He's not quite as good at rebounding on the defensive end, but he's not necessarily terrible, either. However, his defensive presence shouldn't be diminished because he is 94th in the nation in blocking shots. That means Iowa may have a rough time scoring on their two-point shots again.
All of this means that Iowa will have to take a similar strategy to Stone as they did to Purdue's ogres. The Boilers didn't do a lot of pick and roll with them, of course, but Iowa's ability to deny the entry pass when Stone tries to post up will be needed. As will the help defense when Stone does catch the ball.
As for Carter, he's someone that I feel doesn't get enough recognition with Trimble and Stone on the roster. But the transfer from Georgia Tech has an incredibly versatile game. He's a power forward who can do work in the post, but he can also shoot from deep. About one of every four field goal tries this year for him has been from outside, and he's shooting almost 35% from out there. That's not outstanding, but it is above average and that number is actually at 47% in 19 Big Ten attempts. But his ability to play inside and outside makes him a real problem for other teams when he sets the ball screen for Trimble because he can roll to the basket or pop out to the three-point line. And, outside of his offensive abilities, he 71st in the country in defensive rebounding and 124th in blocks. I'm really curious to see how well he defends Uthoff.
To round out the main rotation, combo forward Jake Layman and shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon are also scoring double-digits this season. (Layman is at 10.7 per game, while Sulaimon is at 10.3.) Both can score from anywhere on the court, but both also take a little over half of their shots from the perimeter and are shooting 37% and 46%, respectively. Sulaimon plays point guard the few minutes per game when Trimble isn't on the court, so he also has the ability to attack off the dribble and finish at the rim or find the open man when the defense collapses.
On defense, the pair are also pretty good defenders. Sulaimon gets called for barely a foul every 40 minutes he plays, and Layman is a decent shot blocker and pickpocket.
Maryland's rotation isn't very deep, though, and once you get past the four starters and Stone, there is a lot of promise but a lot of inconsistency.
Jared Nickens plays the most minutes of anyone off the bench at almost 21 per game. He's 6'7" and plays small forward when Layman is on the bench or at the four spot, or he plays shooting guard when Sulaimon is on the bench or covering point guard duties for Trimble. And considering 89 of his 105 field goal attempts have been from three-point range this season, it's pretty clear what he provides on offense for Maryland. He's a career 37% shooter from outside, but going just 6-31 in Big Ten play has dropped this season's number to around 35%. That's not stopping him from shooting the ball, though, so Iowa should be prepared to close out on him on the perimeter.
Other than Nickens, Damonte Dodd and Michael Cekovsky are the other main reserves. Both share the five position with Stone, but Dodd plays more than Cekovsky. Dodd was the starter last season and he's resumed that role for basically the last few months. But even though he starts, he only sees the floor for about 16 minutes per game, and that number is at just around 13 in conference play, thanks to the emergence of the talented freshman center. Dodd actually shoots the ball pretty well on offense, but his problem is that he is a turnover machine. He also fouls quite a bit and isn't rebounding at quite the same level as last season. Essentially, he seems to have taken a step back from a decent sophomore season last year.
As for Cekovksy, he's a former 4 star recruit who is third in Maryland's big man rotation. The 7'1", 250 lb. sophomore is more of a lane-clogger on defense at this point than anything else. He blocks a decent amount of shots for his size and the same goes for his rebounding on that end of the floor. He's shooting pretty well in his limited 32 attempts this season, but, like Dodd, he also turns the ball over way too much. He also fouls quite a bit. So at this point in his career, he's just another big body the Terps throw out there to pass the time while Stone gets a breather on the bench.
What Kenpom Thinks
Kenpom Rankings: Iowa #2,
Rutgers Maryland #14
Projected Outcome: Iowa 72 (48%), Maryland 73 (52%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.06, Maryland 1.07
Projected Possessions: 68
This is about as close as a projection can get. Kenpom has Iowa losing by a point and being outscored by one one-hundredth of a point per possession. The only way this could be closer would be for the win percentage to be 49% to 51%, or something with a decimal point. The reason Maryland is the slight favorite is because the game is being played in College Park. If you look at Kenpom's thrill score for this game, it projects to be the best game of the week, let alone night.
Overall, Iowa has more than enough talent, experience, and depth to win this game, but Maryland is the only remaining game in which Kenpom doesn't currently favor the Hawkeyes. The Terps have the ability to put five players on the court who are as good as just about anybody in the country. So if Iowa loses this game, on the road, it's not a huge deal. Even with one loss, they have a schedule that lightens up quite a bit and their Big Ten title chances will still look great.
But if the Hawkeyes continue to shoot the lights out (particularly from deep) and play excellent defense, they have more than enough ability to leave the State of Maryland 8-0 in conference play. If that happens, the only potential road block to an outright Big Ten Championship is likely Indiana, and maybe Michigan if they can stay perfect. In other words, Iowa continues to control their own destiny. This team has already started to enter the history books with their 7-0 start. With a win tonight, they can start writing another chapter.