Welcome back to the Testudo Times movie room. It’s officially the crazy season of college basketball, arguably the best time of the year.
Maryland men’s basketball was announced as the 10th seed on Sunday night, taking on the number 7 seed Connecticut Huskies. The Terps played seven more games than the Huskies this time, but they also played a very difficult schedule, as the Big Ten conference ended up with nine teams selected for the big game, and the Big East was very weak this time.
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Much like the Terps, Connecticut was able to get through the season well thanks to strong defensive play.
The Huskies rarely play defense and rely on strong man-to-man play to disrupt opponents. That’s good news for Maryland, which tends to struggle more against locales.
UConn also boasts East Defensive Player of the Year Isaiah Whaley, which could lead to a tough battle between the two teams.
In the loss to Creighton in the Big East game, the Huskies opened the game strong on the defensive side of the ball.
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Despite the Bluejays trying to get the ball out quickly, UConn was able to stop the ball defensively. By playing hard to finish, the Huskies were able to send Creighton to the second round.
The decision the Bluejays ran with was the controversial winger sending forward Adama Sanogo – who was close to arriving in the offseason at Maryland. Deciding to continue the pressure, the Bluejays drove to a punt, but a double assist forced a foul shot.
In the same game, the Bluejays were able to create opportunities by working in independent areas to prevent help.
Junior guard Tyrese Martin (No. 4) guards his man on the shallow wing, but Jalen Gaffney (No. 0) can’t help on the collision course because his man is moving. This gives Creighton a chance to beat the 6-foot-6 defender and get the foul. The Huskies rank 15th nationally in allowing 36.9% free throws to opposing teams.
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The Terps have enough length to create a variety of offense across the board, but they will need to be disciplined and avoid short possessions against a Connecticut defense that holds teams to 17.3 seconds per offense.
Sophomore guard James Bouknight missed most of the 2020-21 season with an injury, but he is far from the Huskies’ top talent on offense.
In 14 games, including the first 13, Bouknight averaged 19 points on 45.3 percent shooting from the field and 30.4 percent from three. Although not injured, Bouknight had a season-best performance when he scored 40 points in 40 minutes on Dec. 20 against Creighton.
Bouknight injured his left elbow on Jan. 5 against Marquette and was sidelined until Feb. 20. He also suffered a concussion during the Big East team’s loss to Creighton last week. Even with the break, there was no significant change in Bouknight’s game.
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There aren’t many shots Bouknight can’t hit. Everything from catch-and-shoot triples to mid-range rebound shots to floaters and continuous drop shots.
Bouknight struggled in his team’s season-opening win over rival USC, scoring 18 points on 5-of-15 shooting from the floor, but still left his mark outside.
Early on, Bouknight was able to keep the Huskies in the game with this isolation play. With his man opting to cut an inside drive and not finish, Bouknight drove and stepped back for a three-point shot.
Bouknight also has a strong ability to get to the basket and get open to pass, especially against zone defenses.
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Against Central Connecticut, Bouknight was able to find soft spots in the defensive zone by switching to the opposing low block. This allowed him to easily take down and climb unaided because the 2-3 middle line stepped on the passer.
It only makes sense for Maryland to have Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Darryl Morsell block Bouknight to try to slow down his performance.
While the Huskies don’t have a huge height advantage, they have a trio of key players, each 6-foot-9, who can roam the floor and cause problems.
Whaley has started every game this season and leads all players in the backcourt with 8.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
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Freshman forward Adama Sanogo has taken on a solid role this season, starting 19 of 22 games while averaging 7.5 points and 4.8 rebounds. Sanogo had a very strong game this season, finishing in double figures in four straight games.
Senior forward Tyler Polley has played a lot since Sanogo took over as the Huskies’ starting pitcher, but he still saw the floor in 21 games this season. He is averaging 7.6 points and 2.0 rebounds per game while leading the team with 102 three-point attempts and 35.3% conversion.
As for most of the work inside, Sanogo took the paint with his 240-pound frame.
Sanogo has what most players need in years to improve in February against Georgetown: patience.
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The Huskies tried to get him the ball with a one-on-one matchup, and instead of going up to force a right shot, Sanogo faked it, collected himself and went under the defender and to the left for an easy layup.
Polley has shown his ability to disrupt defenses in one game due to his midfield play and ball handling.
Despite his 6-foot-9 frame, Polley provided relief to R.J. Cole above the button on the screen. He took his player back to the left, over the screen and managed to hit two long shots, despite being well covered by his player and assistant. Cole is in the concussion protocol and it is not yet clear if he will play on Saturday.
The Terps will have to make sure they don’t let someone like Galin Smith match Polley on the border.
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While Maryland has struggled against big teams, forcing those big men to guard a small lineup is one way to prevent them from making mistakes. Last season, he showed signs of his polished style, athleticism and shooting quality (6.1 ppg, 36.2). 3 points FG pct.) He should play an important role in the rotation between the point guard and the shooting guard, with the advantage of the former over the latter.
A brash, confident winter was under the nose of Villanova coach Jay Wright. Diggins has been hampered by a knee injury for much of preseason practice, but he showed no signs of illness in the team’s open program, scoring six points and moving the ball to the hoop with authority.
The Huskies’ leading scorer (12.2 ppg) and scorer (4.3 ppg) is a preseason second-team All-Big East selection. He struggled last season in his first game since being transferred from Howard as a junior and was replaced in the first round at one point. But he soon regressed and ended up as a reliable UConn shooter not named James Bouknight. Dan Hurley would like to see Cole increase his numbers to 15 ppg and 5.5 ppg giving the veteran leadership from the spot.
The versatile, all-around player had a solid first season at UConn until he got hit, shooting just 33% (20-for-60) from the floor over his last eight games. He became the Huskies’ third-leading scorer (10.3 points per game) and leading rebounder (7.5). A preseason second-team All-Big East selection.
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The reigning Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year was selected to return for a fifth season of eligibility, determined to prove that the award is not for nothing. An excellent rim protector (2.6 bpg) and one of the top defensive backs in the country, Whaley hopes to expand his shooting range this season. Dan Hurley would like to see him hit 30 3-pointers at about a 33 percent clip.
He tried to make a comeback last season, less than a year removed from a torn Achilles tendon, but he couldn’t give much. Now, almost 20 months removed from the surgery, Akok seems to be 100 percent back. If he can be as exciting as he was as a freshman while knocking down more three-pointers, he will be a great “addition” to the Huskies’ lineup.
Like Isaiah Whaley, he’s back for a fifth season after being celebrated by the Big East and winning the Sixth Man Award last year. He struggled at times last season coming back from a torn ACL, but could be valuable as a long-range shooting threat. Hurley would also like to see him improve his rebounding and defense
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