In their first season in the Big Ten conference, Maryland has had a pretty impressive season thus far. They are currently sitting at 19-4 and have signature wins against Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and Michigan State (twice). But while they looked almost unbeatable at the beginning of conference play, some chinks in the armor have begun to appear. The Terps only have one real bad loss, in which they flopped in Champaign against the Illini, but their past four games haven't been all that impressive. Losses on the road to Ohio State and Indiana aren't anything to be ashamed of, per se, but losing them both in blowout style isn't anything to write home about, either. And then there are their last two wins, against Northwestern and Penn State, both of which were at home and both of which were way too close for comfort.
So the one daunting game left on Iowa's schedule seems a bit more manageable at this point.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think Iowa has an easy win coming to them against Maryland--the Terps are still the lone remaining opponent inside the Kenpom top 40. However, like the game against Michigan, this should be a match up of strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. Maryland's offense has been almost as horrid as Iowa's defense has been since conference teams started coming to town, while their defense has been just about as great as Iowa's offense has been.
Let's look at the numbers.
When Iowa has the Ball
If you are wondering why the charts look a little different than usual, it's because all of the stats included in these charts are now from conference games only. Both teams now have enough games under their belt for this to be a pretty good sample size. This also gets rid of non-conference stats that are riddled with cupcakes and gives a better picture of what both teams have looked like recently.
With that being said, this side of the ball looks like a clash of the titans. If we look at adjusted conference efficiencies, the Hawkeyes have had the second best offense in the Big Ten since conference play began, averaging a strength of schedule-adjusted 1.26 points per trip. Wisconsin has been the only offense more efficient than Iowa during this stretch of play. Maryland, on the other hand, is not to be outdone. Their defense has also been the second best in Big Ten play, giving up an adjusted 0.91 points per possession, which is second to only Nebraska.
Unlike a Michigan team that was playing great defense coming into the Iowa game, this Maryland team has been doing it all year and they actually have the size to be able to bang in the paint with the Hawkeyes. The Terrapins don't cause many turnovers, but the two things that Iowa is generally pretty reliant upon, offensive rebounds and free throws, are two areas in which Maryland excels at limiting. And even though they haven't had a complete lid on the basket during conference play, Maryland has held their opponents to below average shooting from inside the arc. Since Iowa gets most of their points from inside and at the free throw line, something is going to have to give here.
So what should Iowa do on offense? Well, the same things I always tell them to do. They need to get the ball to the rim and score or draw fouls. Maryland is a very guard-heavy team, and Mark Turgeon has been less than impressed with his big men on both sides of the ball lately, so that could be a good thing for Iowa. Maryland uses a center-by-committee rotation, in which three guys share time down on the block. 6'11" Damonte Dodd has gotten the most time down there this season, but 6'8" Jon Graham has seen quite a bit of time there recently, too. And ever since conference play started, 7'1" freshman Michal Cekovsky has looked even more like a freshman than he did to start the year. What I'm hoping is that Iowa is able to take advantage of the Terps' inexperience in the post. And when Graham is on the floor, I'm hoping that Iowa can take advantage of the height differential with Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni.
Needless to say, Iowa will also need to get production from Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff, but I think Iowa may be able to have some success in the paint against this team. Will it be sustainable success, though? I'm not sure. Maryland is a great defensive rebounding team, so if Iowa isn't connecting on their shots or getting to the free throw line, they could be in some trouble. We already saw Wisconsin's defense dominate Iowa on the glass, hopefully they can avoid the same outcome against Maryland.
When Maryland has the Ball
On this end of the floor, we have to wonder who can be less bad. I mean, I think it's probably a given that Iowa is going to allow more than a point per possession. Nebraska is the only Big Ten team they've able to hold under that mark, and while Maryland's offense hasn't been good recently, neither has Michigan's and they got over that hump. That means more pressure on Iowa's offense to have a good outing.
But focusing on when Maryland has the ball, this also looks to be quite the gridlock. Iowa has been letting other teams torch the nets, but Maryland hasn't been doing that since Big Ten play started. Iowa has been pretty awful on the defensive glass, but Maryland has been pretty crappy at cleaning up their misses. And while Maryland is very good at drawing fouls and getting to the line, this is the one area in which Iowa has still played well during Big Ten play. The only thing Iowa doesn't have going for them in this match up is the turnover battle.
At this point, you may be asking "So why exactly has Maryland's offense been so bad recently?" Well, from what I've seen, part of it has been the fact that they are so dependent upon their guard play. With the slip in production from their big men in conference play, there has been increased pressure on the likes of Dez Wells and Melo Trimble. Both are fine players, but Wells is an extremely high usage guy who is pretty mediocre when it comes to scoring efficiently and Trimble is still a true freshman and he's hit a bit of an offensive skid over the last two games. The Terps have a lot of good players on this team, but they seem to live and die with Wells and Trimble. They like to isolate them or run them off of ball screens in order to get them open looks or lanes to the basket, which makes it no surprise that Maryland is 259th in the country when it comes to the number of assisted field goals they have had this season. The Division I average is 53.4%, but Maryland has had an assist on only 49.2% of their makes this season, including on only 50% of them in Big Ten play.
So where does Iowa have a distinct advantage on defense? Down low, of course. In Big Ten play, Maryland has shot a conference-worst 41% on their two point field goal attempts. A big part of that has been because they have had so many of their shots blocked, which is good news for an Iowa team currently fourth in the conference in blocked shot rate. The Hawkeyes should be able to handle Maryland's big men on the block, but this may also be a game in which having two gigantic rim protectors comes in handy. Dez Wells loves to drive the basket, and even though Melo Trimble is more balanced with his shot selection, he too loves to drive the basket and draw fouls. If Iowa can alter their shots when they get in the lane, and abstain from fouling, they should be successful.
The one concern, like it always is of course, is three point shooting. Maryland is an above average three point shooting team and they have taken almost 40% of their attempts from long range in Big Ten play. Per usual, if they are hitting their three pointers, they could hang around or even win the game due to Iowa's reliance on two pointers and free throws. By my count, I see five Maryland players who all shoot at least 36% from deep, so that is definitely something to keep an eye on.
Team Shooting Tendencies
(Shot charts courtesy of Shot Analytics.)
Maryland is decent around the rim, but they are not a good mid-range team. Their strength, again, though, is knocking down the three ball.
That shows up again on this chart, as Iowa has been the superior shooting team inside the arc during conference play. However, due to the Hawkeyes' recent issues at the free throw line, Maryland has been a better free throw shooting team.
As far as shooting tendencies go, Iowa and Maryland are polar opposites. The Hawkeyes thrive when they are attacking the basket, while Maryland takes about 2 of every 5 field goal attempts from long range.
Even though they take such a huge amount of threes, Maryland is actually quite good at drawing fouls when they do attack the basket. Melo Trimble, Jake Layman, and Richaud Pack are three guys who play significant minutes and are all nationally ranked, according to Kenpom, when it comes to free throw rate. So that's why so much of their production comes at the free throw line.
Iowa also gets a huge chunk of their points at the charity stripe, but they sub two pointers for three pointers.
Opposing Players to Watch
Since this is a guard-heavy attack, it's only logical to start with Dez Wells and Melo Trimble.
Wells is a senior shooting guard that uses the most possessions and takes the most shots out of anyone on the team when he is on the floor. Like I mentioned above, though, he's not the most efficient scorer, as he is only shooting 47% from the floor this year. And even though he's not finishing very well there and he doesn't draw a ton of fouls, he still loves to attack the basket more than he likes to shoot threes.
But when he does shoot from outside, he is a 51.6% shooter on the year. He's also the best assist man on the roster, but he does have a bit of a turnover problem. Due to his poor two point shooting (just 40.8%) and some turnover issues, his offensive rating is actually slightly below average. Don't let that fool you, though, he's still averaging 13 points per game in conference play. It's just taking him quite a few scoring opportunities to do so.
As for defense, I should also mention that Wells has a knack for picking his opponent's pocket and he doesn't get called for many fouls.
And, actually, the same is also true of Melo Trimble. Even though he's just a freshman, Trimble plays the most minutes of anyone on the team and is one of the most efficient players on the team to boot. I mentioned earlier that he has been a bit off in the last two games, but overall he is still averaging 14 points per game in Big Ten play. Unlike Wells, who prefers to shoot from inside the arc about 80% of the time, Trimble is more 50/50 when it comes to shooting from inside or outside. He is shooting a dangerous 37.3% from long range this season, but he tends to have issues finishing in traffic, like Wells does.
His one saving grace over Wells, though, is the fact that Trimble draws a crap-ton of fouls. He's not quite on Aaron White's level, but he's not far off either. So, again, Iowa's ability to abstain from fouling will be huge in this game.
After Maryland's two guards, starting power forward, Jake Layman is also quite dangerous on offense. He's averaging 9 points in fewer minutes than the two aforementioned players, but he's actually leading the team in win shares and win shares per minute played during conference play. The 6'9" Layman uses about the same amount of possessions as Melo Trimble, but he tends to shoot more when he's on the hardwood. And that's not a bad thing, seeing how he is shooting 56.9% from the field and has the highest true shooting percentage on the team.
He takes about 63% of his shots from inside the three point line, but, as you see above, he can shoot from anywhere on the court. He's making 56.4% of his twos and 38.5% of his threes this year, so Aaron White will need to stick all over him in this one. And even though he's not much of an offensive rebounder, he is the best defensive rebounder on the team and one of the best in the nation.
After those big three, you get a smattering of role players. Dion Wiley is another freshman who is doing nice things for this Maryland team. He is shooting the ball pretty well this year, but he is at his most dangerous when it comes to shooting from deep. He's connecting on 36.2% of his threes this season. His one drawback, however, is the fact that he tends to cough the ball up a bit too much.
Then we have Damonte Dodd, who can look absolutely brilliant at one moment and then look terrible the next. When he does shoot, he is a very good finisher around the rim. He's also a good rebounder during his limited time on the floor.
Finally, former Michigan Wolverine, Evan Smotrycz, Richaud Pack, Jared Nickens, Michal Cekovsky, and Jon Graham also see pretty significant minutes. Smotrycz is not much of a shooter this season, but he is a hell of a defensive rebounder. Pack and Nickens are efficient offensive players in limited roles, but for different reasons. Pack is a mediocre shooter from outside, but he's got a knack for attacking the rim and drawing fouls. Jared Nickens is like Josh Oglesby if Josh Oglesby could actually shoot threes again. (/has a sad) And Cekovsky and Graham are solid rebounders and decent shooters at the rim when they do shoot.
What Kenpom Thinks
Kenpom Ranking: Iowa #33, Maryland #34
Projected Score: Iowa 69 (66%), Maryland 65 (34%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.08, Maryland 1.02
Projected Possessions: 64
If you haven't noticed, Iowa moved up quite a bit after their double-digit win in Ann Arbor. They have actually moved ahead of Maryland in Kenpom's current rankings, which means they aren't favored simply because they are the home team. In all actuality, Kenpom giving Iowa a 66% chance of winning this game worries me. Do I think Iowa is capable of winning this game? Yes. Do I feel 66% confident? Not really. I'm pretty 50/50 on this game.
Despite Maryland's defense being one of the best in the Big Ten, I do think Iowa's front court is better and the Hawkeyes should be able to exploit that. However, Maryland's back court is better, and I fully expect them to exploit that on the other end of the floor. If Iowa can get the ball inside and hopefully get to the free throw line, they should be successful on offense. If they can couple that with excellent defense around the rim, while abstaining from fouling, then they also have a chance on defense. That being said, Maryland's ability to drain the long ball has me worried.
Essentially, I feel like this game is a tossup and I'm pretty happy that Iowa's only matchup with the Terps is at Carver this season. Win this game, and the Hawkeyes have no teams remaining on their regular season schedule that are inside the Kenpom top 40. Minnesota is currently at #45 and Indiana is sitting at #51, so both of those teams could possibly make the jump before it comes time to face the Hawkeyes. Even so, the Hawkeyes have a very favorable schedule the rest of the way. Coming up with a win against Maryland could be a big boost as the season winds down.