Thursday, April 15, 2021

Know Thy Enemy: Both MSU, Maryland on win streaks as Spartans head on the road

February 28, 2021
<p>Then-junior forward Xavier Tillman (23) shoots a layup while Maryland’s Jalen Smith defends him (25). The Spartans fell to the Terrapins, 60-67, at the Breslin Student Events Center on Feb. 15, 2020. </p>

Then-junior forward Xavier Tillman (23) shoots a layup while Maryland’s Jalen Smith defends him (25). The Spartans fell to the Terrapins, 60-67, at the Breslin Student Events Center on Feb. 15, 2020.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State basketball's opponent. This weekend State News beat writers Sara Tidwell and Jayna Bardahl spoke with Alexander Dacy of The Diamondback ahead of Sunday's game between Maryland and MSU.

A three-game win streak, which includes overthrowing AP-ranked No. 5 Illinois and No. 4 Ohio State, has green and white energy on the rise as Michigan State men's basketball has landed in College Park to take on Maryland at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

The Spartans enter the matchup at 7-9 in conference play and 13-9 overall.

This weekend State News sports reporters Sara Tidwell and Jayna Bardahl spoke with Alexander Dacy of The Diamondback ahead of the Spartans' matchup with the Terrapins.

Q: With an overall record of 14-10, what are Maryland’s strong suits? Weaknesses? How are they looking with the regular season coming to a close soon?

Defense is absolutely Maryland’s strong suit and always has been the focal point under Mark Turgeon. Senior Darryl Morsell leads that unit, which has scrapped to keep the Terps in games against tougher opponents (and in the case of Illinois, Wisconsin and Purdue, lead them to wins). Maryland allows opponents to shoot just 41.2 percent while allowing 65.3 points per game, numbers that have come down in recent weeks as the group finds it top form. Morsell did partially dislocate his shoulder last week against Rutgers, so he might not be at full strength on Sunday.

The defense has masked the Terps’ biggest weaknesses on the offensive end. Maryland does not have a true big man (the tallest player in the regular rotation is 6-foot-9) and has struggled to find an interior presence like it did in past years. The team also misses an alarming amount of open threes and is typically good for at least one scoreless stretch of five-plus minutes every game, which Turgeon has found no answer for. The unit has started to show more flow in recent weeks, though, running the offense through Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins. The Terps won’t put up gaudy numbers, but if they can score just enough (high 60s-low 70s), they can usually win on the back of the defense.

Q: Both Maryland and MSU will enter Sunday's matchup on a winning streak. How will this momentum contribute to the Terrapins' energy?

Maryland is peaking at the right time, and that’s partially due to the team’s schedule. The Terps had a brutal stretch to open Big Ten play, facing 10 of 13 ranked opponents, but have been able to jell as the offense has found more rhythm against weaker defenses. The winning streak has greatly boosted Maryland’s confidence, and while the Terps likely won’t play a high-energy game since that’s not their style, the squad will find whatever way it can to grind out a victory.

Q: Who are Maryland’s team leaders and how much are they relied on in play-action? Who else is emerging into the spotlight that could cause problems for the Spartans?

Morsell is the unquestioned captain, Maryland’s heart and soul. He won’t always put up big numbers, but his intangibles on the defensive end and as a leader on the court keeps the Terps in order. Ayala and Wiggins run the offense, with Wiggins really breaking out in February. He’s scored at least 17 points in six of his last eight games, also tallying three double-doubles in that stretch. He’s the closest thing this team has to an NBA prospect, and much of Maryland’s success hinges on him. Donta Scott is the other main name to watch, averaging 11.8 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game. Outside of those big four, a few rotational players have shown signs of life in the past few weeks — Jairus Hamilton, Galin Smith and Hakim Hart — but have not been consistent enough to cause major problems.

Q: What is your score prediction and why?

Maryland 68-65. The Spartans are riding high off two wins over top-five teams, but I think the Terps will muck it up enough defensively to frustrate Aaron Henry and co. and squeak by on their home court.

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