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Penn State vs Maryland Preview: Lions Face the Moment of Truth

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After last weekend’s loss, can the Nittany Lions regroup and get a top win?

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Opponent Summary

Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Maryland Terrapins Tuesday, Feburary 7th, 6:00 PM EST Bryce Jordan Center (University Park, PA) BTN 35 20-3, 8-2 Big Ten Maryland -3

Had things turned out differently last weekend (and that’s the last reference to that dreaded day for ever and ever), this would be a game Penn State would use for positioning in the Big Ten standings, and to keep its postseason hopes alive. Now, it’s a nearly unwinnable game that is suddenly a must-win for a Nittany Lion squad running out of chances to get to the postseason. Penn State needs to be in desperation mode the rest of the way if they want to salvage the season, and this game is the best candidate to start that process.

The silver lining in all of this is that Penn State, regardless of talent and experience, has been able to keep the Maryland series close since the Terps joined the Big Ten. Not unlike the recent games against Indiana and Illinois, all three contests between the Lions and the Terps have been decided by single digits (six points or less, in Maryland’s case). And this season, Maryland comes into Bryce Jordan with as many freshman contributors as Penn State does.

Maryland’s run of invincibility ended last Saturday against Purdue, where the Boilermakers were the team taking on the role of last-second-clutch-make-for-the-win that we’re used to seeing from Melo Trimble and the gang. Thus, Maryland will come ready to make a statement and prove that they are indeed one of the top teams in the Big Ten.

Scouting the Opposition

Melo Trimble is the heart and soul of this Maryland team. Everything runs through him, and when it’s time to win the game, the ball will be in his hands. His sophomore slump season is well behind him, and we’re getting to see the Trimble that took the Big Ten by storm in 2014 again, enjoying a 51.5 eFG% on 28.4% of possessions. His efficiency did dip a little in the Big Ten (46.5%), but it’s still good enough to hurt you when it matters most.

The freshman trio of Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan, and Kevin Huerter has progressed much better than anticipated, with Justin Jackson enjoying a 47% rate from beyond the arc for the season. Damonte Dodd rounds up the top 5 for the Terps, and the senior has not disappointed this season. He’s not Happ or Swanigan, but he’s still troublesome enough to give Mike Watkins and Julian Moore fits if they’re not at the top of their respective games.

Michal Cekovsky spent a ton of time out with injury, but he’s back and is providing Maryland with much needed depth at the post.

What to Watch For

Penn State already let the loss to Indiana turn into two losses. Now we’ll see if they’ll let it turn into three. The Nittany Lions have the talent to stay with Maryland, but they need to execute in order to come away with a win. Shep Garner seems to have found his shot over the past few games, which means Tony Carr, Payton Banks, and Lamar Stevens need to see their baskets fall in order to ease the burden on Garner, which in turn will allow him to choose his shot more carefully.

Josh Reaves will likely (see what I did there?) be tasked with slowing down Trimble, and this will be a challenge for him. Trimble can get to the line with relative ease, and while Reaves has fouled at a lesser rate overall this season than last, he’s been racking them up recently. Penn State needs to have Reaves for most of the game if they want to have a chance in this one.

If the rest of the cast can have an average shooting night and Garner can keep performing like he did in the past two and a half games, the Lions stand a good chance at keeping pace with the Terrapins in this game. If we see another shooting night like we did on Saturday, this will be a long game for the Lions.

Prediction

No reasonable human can predict a win after what we saw just a few days ago. The computers, however, still seem to think this game will be close. Given Penn State’s Jeckyll and Hyde nature, we could see anything happen tonight. Your guess is as good as mine.
Penn State ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, Maryland ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯