#4 Maryland (27-6) vs. #13 Valparaiso (28-5)
Friday 4:40 P.M. ET on TNT
In last year’s tournament, no 4th-seed team lost a 13th-seed. On Friday, the Maryland Terrapins will look to continue that trend against the Valparaiso Crusaders, who come in riding the wave of a Horizon League championship.
The skinny on Valparaiso:
–Conference: Horizon League (13-3 in conference play)
This season, Coach Brice Drew (Scott Drew’s brother) led the Valaparaiso Crusaders to their highest winning percentage since 1944-45. Despite losing starting guard Lexus Williams to an ACL injury before the season, the team was able to a secure regular season championship in addition to winning the conference tournament.
From the rotation minutes to scoring, the Crusaders are varied and balanced as a team. Coach Drew prefers to use a rather extensive rotation–with eight players averaging over 19 minutes per game. The most impactful player on the team is the versatile stretch forward Alec Peters, who is averaging 16.7 points and 6.8 rebounds bolstered by his hyper-efficient shooting splits of 49/46/84. Valpo plays at a relatively slow pace, but if you can speed them up and force them out of their sluggish tempo, they are sure to turn the ball over. At least a third of the teams shots will be from the 3-point line, which they convert at a solid percentage.
Valpo is best known for being a solid defensive team, only allowing 59.3 points per game on 38% shooting. Vashil Fernandez has been Valpo’s rock on the defensive end all season, as evidenced by his near 3 blocks per game. Size will not be much of an issue, as the three of the starters are at least 6′ 8” tall, which keeps them from being overwhelmed by Maryland.
Outside of Alec Peters and Tevonn Walker, Valpo is a poor free throw shooting team, with numbers rivaling some of the worst teams in the country. As is always the case, free throws can make or break a team’s chances of winning a game in the tournament.
The Horizon league is a relatively middling conference. The Crusaders will have to prove able to handle one of the best teams in the country. Valpo lost its only game –granted, it was in the beginning of the season–against a power conference opponent (Missouri) 56-41. Missouri is not in the same class as Maryland, so the question is whether Valpo can go toe-to-toe with a superior team.
The skinny on Maryland:
–Conference: Big Ten (14-4 in conference play)
After a tumultuous off-season highlighted by a hoard of players transfers, the Maryland basketball program proved that their talent cupboard was not bare. Coach Mark Turgeon coached his Maryland team to a better-than-expected 27-6 record, which earned them AP top 25 ranking as high as the #8 team in the nation. Whether or not they deserved a higher seed after playing in one of the top conferences is a point of contention. Nonetheless, the Terrapins are in a decent situation with a possible sweet 16 showdown with the Kentucky Wildcats down the road.
Much of Maryland’s on court success can be attributed to backcourt mates Melo Trimble and Dez Wells, who have a rightful claim as being one of the best duos in the nation. Despite Maryland playing at an average pace on offense, Trimble and Wells put constant pressure on the defense and get to the free throw line a ton. The former gets to the line almost 7 times per game, which is elite for any player, let alone a freshman.
In terms of rebounding, Maryland is a mixed bag and lacks a dominant rebounder on the roster. They do not create very many second shot opportunities, which is troublesome for a team which shoots a very average 43.8% from the field. On the other hand, one thing Maryland does very well is prevent opponents from getting offensive rebounds. It is not uncommon for Maryland’s guards to help out on the defensive boards, as rebounding is more of a team effort than an individual one for the Terrapins.
Maryland plays a lot of close games, due in part to their average offense coupled with the quality of some of their opponents. With the unpredictability of the tournament, it’s in Maryland’s best interest not to allow the capable 3-point shooting Valparaiso to hang around. Maryland has proven to be successful in tight games, so it is likely they can weather a storm yet again.
Beating Valparaiso involves cracking their defensive code. Maryland isn’t known to embrace a Wisconsin-type surgical swing offense; instead, they rely a lot on the creativity of the guards, but that may not work against a team like Valparaiso, which does a good job of not fouling while defending. The worst case scenario for Maryland will be having to rely on out shooting Valparaiso.
Can he produce the same way for the Crusaders against a upper D1 frontline? Against Missouri, he only got 5 total shots with 7 points and nearly fouled out with 4 fouls. If Peters can make things easier for his teammates by drawing attention, the Crusaders will be in position to pull off the upset.
All season, Trimble has met heavy expectations and will now look to tackle some new ones. The offense runs through he and Wells, and it will imperative that he takes care of the ball while dissecting the Valparaiso offense. It is wise to trust Trimble, but he is still a freshman after all.