After racking up a couple wins last week and seeing themselves return to #5 in the rankings, the Iowa Hawkeyes (9-2, 3-1) return to the East Coast of the Big Ten to face the Maryland Terrapins (6-5, 1-4). The Terps are coming off a stretch of losing five games in seven outings, including two straight conference games.
Maryland is led by Mark Turgeon. He’s been around a sneaky long time, as he’s in his 10th season in College Park. He’s posted an impressive Big Ten record, with 12+ conference wins in five of the six Maryland has been in the conference after a suboptimal 23-29 ACC record. It culminated in last year’s three-way tie for the Big Ten regular season title.
There’s probably room for a think piece re: Maryland and their place in both conferences but we do not have time for that at this juncture.
Anyways, they’re more offensively-oriented than they were last year after losing Anthony Cowens and Jalen Smith, which is a nice way of saying their defense has dropped way off. They’ve gone from 22nd in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom to 87th. It is a 10-year low for the Terps.
Offensively, there’s been improvement according to KenPom (18th to 13th) as Eric Ayala, Donta Scott, and Aaron Wiggins have stepped into higher-scoring roles. Their offense is buoyed by a strong eFG% and low turnover percentage.
Donta Scott (F, 6’7”, 230 lbs) - Though Scott averages just 12.9 points/game, he does it at an incredibly efficient rate. In a player preview, fellow BHGPer Bartt Pierce mention “180 shooting” and Scott is currently operating well above that at 63% from the field, 58% from three, and 81% from the line (it adds up to 202). Iowa cannot leave him open under any circumstance.
His game reminds me a smidge of Joel Ayayi of Gonzaga, who snagged 18 rebounds despite his 6’5” frame. Scott leads the Terps at 7.3 boards/game as he is often slotted as Maryland’s power forward and may even get some run at center. Such a lineup would put Iowa at risk of defending five ball-handlers across the perimeter.
Eric Ayala (G, 6’5”, 200 lbs) - The junior guard has taken over lead duties relatively well after seeing Cowans depart. His shooting percentage is up across the board from last year and he averages 14.3 points/game so far this season. If there is an area in his game which does not befit his role as point guard, he’s averaged just 2.5 assists/game. He’s done well, however, minimizing his turnovers at just 1.0/game and is top 20 in conference with a 9.8% turnover rate.
His size will pose some difficulty for Iowa as he’s done a good job converting at the rim - 61% from two so far this season - and will have a height advantage over almost anybody the Hawks could throw at him.
Galin Smith (F, 6’9”, 235 lbs) - The senior transfer from Alabama went to Maryland searching for a bigger role and hasn’t necessarily found it outside of starting in nine games so far. He’s seen his shooting percentage jump to 63% but isn’t necessarily on the court long enough (15 minutes/game). The main culprit of his playing time is foul trouble, as his 6.1 fouls called/40 minutes puts him at risk - against Indiana, he fouled out in just 17 minutes.
Can Iowa crack the code against the Terps? The Hawkeyes have struggled against Maryland over the last three seasons, going just 1-3, while topping out at just 1.03 points/possession. If Iowa were to have that type of offensive performance again, it would rank as their worst of the season.
Where Iowa can improve over their previous four games is first, shot-making. Just once has Iowa eclipsed 40% from inside the arc - 2018’s blowout loss. That game was also Iowa’s best from deep, at 52%, with the other three games hovering between 33%-40%. The other failure Iowa’s had is turnovers, with three of the four games TO% coming in well over 20%.
Though Maryland has not turned opponents over all that much, their length could replicate Rutgers’ plan of attack on Iowa’s offense by limiting post entries to Luka Garza. This may be a game where Iowa has to win outside-in with strong shooting from CJ Fredrick, Joe WIeskamp, & Jordan Bohannon especially if Connor McCaffery is unable to provide his consistency as a passer.
Can Iowa protect the paint? As mentioned above with Scott & Ayala, Maryland can fill it up. Their impressive shooting percentages are driven by 1.21 points/shot at the rim, where 48% of their shots come from, per Pivot Analysis. Though there is some drop-off in both numbers during conference play (1.09 & 45%), it is silly to think Iowa might be able to replicate it without a significant investment in the Garza/Jack Nunge lineup.
As detailed in yesterday’s deep dive, that pairing provides Iowa with a solid defensive foundation but does open the Hawks up to some stylistic concerns. If Maryland were to go with a five guard-ish lineup, it would open up insane driving lanes against a man-to-man defense.
I would expect a heavy dose of zone with Iowa hyper-focused on keeping Scott from getting hot which is certainly easier said than done, especially considering the Terps have a couple other 40%ish shooters from deep - Hakim Hart & Jairus Hamilton.
What is the injury situation? If Connor McCaffery and Joe Toussaint are unable to play up to their normal standards, it obviously limits the levers Fran can pull. I suspect Toussaint would be particularly necessary against Maryland as the now-departed Cowan called JT the toughest player to guard. His health heightens the need for Bohannon to be locked in, as he’s largely spelled Iowa’s starting PG, though freshman Ahron Ulis looked great in his 14 minutes against Rutgers.
Connor on the other hand, can be backfilled a number of ways. Nunge will get the first crack but if his lack of lateral quickness is exposed, Keegan Murray will probably get his heaviest dose of playing time as the bench player most suited to match Maryland’s size and physicality. Pat McCaffery could also see his minutes improve, but he’s looked much more volatile in his time on the court than Murray.
Tonight is an incredibly winnable game for Iowa but the Terps have had Iowa’s number for long stretches of their time in the conference. Their athleticism is typically a pretty good foil for Iowa’s more finesse style and the improved offense poses additional concerns.
Yet Iowa was able to come away with a road win already this season and if they’re hoping to push for the Big Ten crown, they’ll need that to be more of a regularity than outlier. There’s the added motivation of getting Garza his only win at College Park, which is near his hometown of Washington, DC.
Whomever comes out on top, I expect it to be an absolute grind and a well-earned win for the victor.