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Penn State at Maryland Preview: Searching for a Course Correction

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As conference play resumes, Penn State has an opportunity to get a quality win on the road.

NCAA Basketball: Rider at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing finish to their non-conference schedule, Penn State has a chance to reignite their postseason hopes as they head to College Park to take on Maryland. They will look to win their second in-a-row against Maryland after an upset victory in State College last year.

Opponent Summary

Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Maryland Terrapins Tuesday, January 2, 7:00 PM Xfinity Center, College Park, MD BTN 30 12-3, (1-1) PSU +4

Results against Binghamton (close win) and Rider (last-second loss) put a damper on the final weeks of the non-conference schedule. Fortunately, the team has a chance to put those performances behind them with Big Ten play resuming. A road-trip Maryland presents an opportunity for redemption, as a win would put Penn State squarely in the conversation of the top 5 teams in the conference.

Scouting the opposition

The Terps are a talented team, potentially the best in the Big Ten behind Michigan State and Purdue, but they will be short-handed tonight. Injuries to Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender are a serious blow to Maryland’s front court depth. Maryland is still figuring out how to construct their lineups without Jackson and Bender, with Bruno Fernando, Michael Cekovsky and Jared Nickens being the most likely candidates to replace their production.

True freshman Bruno Fernando will be thrust into a more prominent role, where he will need to adjust quickly. While Fernando has been impressive in his limited role thus far, games against Penn State and Michigan State will test his mettle. Michael Cekovsky, a 7’1” senior, is the other primary recipient of Jackson and Bender’s playing time. While he has the size, Mike Watkins has proven capable of beating Cekovsky one-on-one in the past.

Jared Nickens, a stretch-four who provides scoring from distance, will also likely see a bump in playing time tonight. At 6’7” he is not going to be in a size mismatch against Lamar Stevens, and his shooting will help open up the floor. Penn State will need to keep his 3-point shooting from becoming a factor.

Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter are the engines behind the Terrapins’ offense. They both average double-digits and can shoot very well from behind the arc with Cowan at 40% and Huerter at 47%. Their propensity to turn the ball over is a weakness which Pat Chambers will look to exploit.

What to watch for

Turnovers - Maryland turns the ball over a lot. Currently ranked at #336 (out of 351) in TO rate on KenPom, the Terrapins have a weakness that aligns with Penn State’s strength. Usual performances by Josh Reaves and Jamari Wheeler should create some easier offensive opportunities for Penn State.

Perimeter Defense - Penn State can’t afford to let Maryland get hot from 3-pt range, even more so now that the Terrapins are lacking in front court depth. The Nittany Lions need to guard Cowan, Huerter, and Nickens tightly when they’re outside the arc; forcing the offense to score in the paint.

Free Throw Shooting - Shooting 69.8% from the line as a team is not nice. In a game between two strong defensive squads, there’s a strong likelihood that free throws will be a deciding factor. To win on the road in the Big Ten the Nittany Lions will need to start improving at the line (or at least get the ball to Tony Carr who is making 85%).

Prediction

Prior to their loss against Rider, I would have been leaning Penn State in this prediction. Still, on paper these teams aren’t separated by much, and Maryland comes in short-handed. Melo Trimble’s absence as a late-minute hero has cost the Terps in close games this year, and I think tonight could be a similar situation. Unfortunately for Penn State, I think Cowan or Huerter come through in the final possessions giving Maryland just enough to get the win. Maryland 70, Penn State 67