|Who:||Maryland Terrapins vs. Michigan State Spartans|
|When:||Tuesday Dec 30, 5:00 ET|
|Where:||Breslin Student Events Center, East Lansing, MI|
|KenPom Rank:||Maryland - 24; Michigan State - 22|
|KenPom Line:||Sparty -4|
I remember this Big Ten commercial that used to be aired that said, "Welcome to the Big Stage". Any other year and I'd say this is an absolutely brutal way for a new team to be ushered into the Big Ten. When Nebraska opened up their inaugural Big Ten slate, they at least welcomed Wisconsin to Lincoln instead of having to open up in the Kohl Center. Before the season I'm sure I'm not the only one that would have said when the calendar was two days away from 2015 that Michigan State would be the No. 12 team in the country and Maryland would be unranked. But after wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State, the Terps are flying high behind an experienced backcourt and they're the ones sporting the number next to their name. Sparty, on the other hand, is trying everything under the sun to erase the memories of the Texas Southern loss a couple of days ago.
What a showdown in the Garden it was between Indiana and Georgetown. One of the better point guard match ups in the non-conference slate lived up to the hype and more. Despite late game heroics from Yogi Ferrell, it wasn't enough to keep pace with junior D'vauntes Smith-Rivera & co as Georgetown took it in overtime, 91-87. Senior forward Aaron Bowen's 22 points off the bench were a pleasant surprise for the Hoyas, and that helped to take some of the burden off Smith-Rivera's shoulders.
Tale of the Tape
This is the opportunity for Maryland to build a little bit of a rivalry with an opponent they've seen rip their hearts out a couple of times. Remember Korie Lucious? Needless to say, he can't purchase a beverage in College Park. Fourth-year head coach Mark Turgeon has Maryland playing their best basketball in quite some time. Three Terrapins average at least 15 points per game, including senior guard Dez Wells, who is now back from a wrist injury that sidelined him for seven games. Picking up the slack has been freshman guard Melo Trimble who's having a Tyler Ennis-esque start of the season. The two-time Big Ten freshman of the week averages just under 16 points per game while shooting around 43 percent from beyond the arc. He's the first freshman to win B1G PotW since Jared Sullinger did it in 2011. This kid is special around the rim and shoots 90 percent from the charity stripe.
Player to keep an eye on: Junior F Jake Layman (15.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
Layman needs only four points to surpass his freshman scoring total and he'll more than likely achieve that before the first media timeout. His ability to work outside/inside will be a huge factor in taking pressure off Wells and Trimble to open up a lot more driving lanes if he can knock down shots. It helps that senior forward Branden Dawson will be nursing a wrist injury of his own and nobody on the Spartans will be able to match the physicality with Layman that Dawson can provide.
Michigan State (9-4)
Replacing guys like Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne comes at a cost no matter who is behind them on the depth chart. Junior Denzel Valentine's points and assists per game are up from last year. Senior guard Travis Trice's points and assists per game are up from last year as well. Dawson's rebounds are up, but his points are a little under last year's pace. The Spartans rank in the top 50 nationally in points, rebound and assists per game, so where's the problem at?
In the Spartans' four losses this year, opponents have shot at least 25 free throw attempts. That stems from the guard play not being able to contain guards from driving more times than settling for jump shots, but more from the lack of a true rim protector. The big men this year are losing a lot of one-one-one match ups on the block and asking the guards to rake the post more as well, but guards aren't afraid to drive on this team. I can't believe I'm talking about a Tom Izzo coached team either, but things were much easier when the likes of Andre Hutson, Paul Davis, Goran Suton or Derrick Nix were down low.
Player to keep an eye on: Senior G Travis Trice (12.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.9 apg)
Trice has shown the confidence to take shots in a more prominent role. His season-high 25 points at Navy to open the year showed he certainly wasn't going to be afraid of the moment this year, and his assists numbers have more than doubled so far. It's important this Spartans team finds someone to take the last shot in contests, but they still need a facilitator to operate Izzo's offense.
PREDICTION: Maryland 70, Michigan State 61
Out of respect to what Tom Izzo has built in East Lansing, this seems crazy to think Michigan State would suffer five losses before the calendar is flipped to 2015. Don't get me wrong - there's still more than enough time for Izzo to get this figured out, but I think this is an opportunity for Maryland to show just how well they can play. The only setback for the Terrapins was an 11-point loss at KenPom #2 Virginia while Wells was still out. The dynamic guard play of Trimble and Wells will prove troublesome for a Spartans team still trying to find an identity.
Other Big Ten games to watch this week:
Tuesday, Dec 30
- Illinois at Michigan
- Iowa at 20) Ohio State
Wednesday, Dec 31
- Penn State at 4) Wisconsin :)
Saturday, Jan 3
- Illinois at 20) Ohio State