Maryland men's basketball Mohegan Sun preview

Maryland men’s basketball Mohegan Sun preview

Maryland men’s basketball easily won its first three games of the season against Niagara, Western Carolina and Binghamton, but will get its first real test of the season this weekend at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip Off Classic at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut. There, the Terps will take on Saint Louis on Saturday at 1 pm and then either Miami or Providence on Sunday at either 1 pm or 3:30 pm

The weekend will offer a look at how Maryland stacks up against solid competition in its first year under head coach Kevin Willard. Saturday’s game is expected to be a tight one, as KenPom predicts a two-point win for Saint Louis.

St. Louis Billikens (3-0, 0-0 Atlantic 10)

Head Coach Travis Ford has assembled a team that has Billikens fans as optimistic as they have been in years. Saint Louis looks like one of the best mid-major teams in the country this season and has its eyes set on competing for an Atlantic 10 title. The Billikens just missed the NCAA Tournament last season and had to settle for an NIT bid, but with a 2022-23 roster featuring plenty of returning stars and a few key newcomers, they look like a good bet to go dancing this March.

Saint Louis has started its season on the right note, jumping out to a 3-0 record with wins over Murray State, Evansville and Memphis. Ford’s team currently ranks in the top 35 at KenPom and received votes in the latest AP poll.

Players to know

Yuri Collins, junior guard, six-foot, No. 1 — Collins is one of the nation’s best passers and commands the Billikens’ offense like few can. He led the NCAA in total assists and assists per game last season, and with more weapons at his disposal this year, he could very well repeat that performance. Through three games, Collins is already off to a hot start, averaging 14 points and 12 assists, making him a prime candidate to repeat as an all-conference player.

Gibson Jimerson, redshirt sophomore guard, 6-foot-5, No. 24 — Jimerson has a case as Saint Louis’ best pure scorer, currently averaging a team-high 18.7 points per game after leading the team in scoring last year. He is shooting 46.4% from three-point range through three games and has shot over 40% from beyond the arc over the course of his career. If the Terps don’t keep an eye on him, they’ll get burned.

Javonte Perkins, senior guard/forward, 6-foot-6, No. 3 — After two years in the junior college ranks, Perkins burst onto the stage and was a two-time all-conference selection with Saint Louis before tearing his ACL before last season. Now back for his final season of college basketball, Perkins figures to once again be one of the best mid-major players in the country. He appears to be back to his pre-injury form, averaging 12 points per game this season, including a 21-point performance in the season-opener.

Strength

Experience. According to KenPom, Saint Louis is the ninth-most experienced team in the nation, with its players averaging 3.18 years of college basketball experience. That continuity is a major reason why many have tabbed the Billikens as a prime candidate to make a leap this season and improve on their NIT appearance from a season ago. There’s no replacement for experience and comfort in college basketball, and that could be the difference against a Maryland team still learning how to play together.

Weakness

Turnovers. Despite their ability to share the ball on offense, the Billikens have a negative turnover margin and have a bottom-10 defensive turnover percentage, per KenPom. Through three games, they have turned the ball over, on average, two more times than their opponents have, a continuation of a worrying trend from last season. Maryland is always looking to take the ball away and will bring a lot of pressure, so if Saint Louis isn’t careful, it could gift the Terps free transition points.

Providence (3-0, 0-0 Big East)

Providence is on the other side of the four-team bracket at Mohegan Sun this weekend, and if the Terps and Friars both win on Saturday — or both lose — they would face each other on Sunday.

Providence, led by longtime head coach Ed Cooley, is off to a 3-0 start on the season. For Maryland, a matchup with Providence would be a familiar one for Willard, who used to play the Friars every season as a Big East foe when he coached at Seton Hall.

Players to know

Byrce Hopkins, sophomore guard/forward, 6-foot-7, No. 23 — The Kentucky transfer is in his first season with Providence, coming over after playing limited minutes at John Calipari’s powerhouse. In his first year with the Friars, though, Hopkins is driving through the early part of the season. He is the teams leading scorer with 14.7 points per game while grabbing over eight boards per game.

Clifton Moore, graduate forward, 6-foot-11, No. 21 — Moore is another transfer who is starring for the transfers. The Ambler, Pennsylvania, native comes from La Salle and is off to a good start this season, averaging 13 points per game through three games. Moore primarily plays inside, but he is also a stretch-forward and can step out to knock down an outside jumper.

Noah Locke, graduate guard, 6-foot-3, No. 10 — Locke has had an illustrious college career, most recently at Louisville — and Florida before that. He is a phenomenal shooter and a versatile scorer. He’s averaging 12.3 points per game on 38.1% shooting from 3-point range.

Strength

Scoring. Providence has a variety of lethal scorers and shooters across its roster that can score in a multitude of ways. The Friars are averaging 85 points per game on over 50% shooting from the field.

Weakness

Defending the three. Providence is a good shooting team, but they struggle to defend the three. It’s a small sample size, but the Friars are allowing teams to shoot a staggering 47.5% from three. Maryland has been cold from three in its last two games, but if they play Providence, it could be a good opportunity to get back on track.

Miami Hurricanes (3-0, 0-0 ACC)

Head coach Jim Larrañaga‘s team is fresh off an unexpected run to the Elite Eight last season and is looking to do damage once again in 2022-23. This weekend could be a historic one for Larrañaga, as he enters Saturday’s game against Providence just one win away from the 700th of his accomplished career.

The Hurricanes were picked to finish 4th in the ACC in the league’s preseason poll, receiving four first-place votes. They took care of business in their first three games with wins over Lafayette, UNCG and Florida A&M, but, like Maryland, will get their first real test at Mohegan Sun this weekend.

Players to know

Isaiah Wong, junior guard, six-foot-four, No. 2 — Wong is the top returner from last year’s Hurricanes team, earning preseason All-ACC First Team honors and finishing second in player of the year voting, although North Carolina’s Armando Bacot was a runaway selection. He averaged 15.3 points per game last season and is expected to potentially better those numbers as a more focal part of Miami’s offense this season, being named to various national player of the year watch lists.

Nijel Pack, sophomore guard, six-footer, No. 24 — Pack made headlines in the offseason off the court, signing a reported $800,000 NIL deal with LifeWallet after transferring from Kansas State. On the court, though, he is one of the Hurricanes’ best players and is their go-to ball-handler in most situations. Through three games, he is averaging 11.3 points and just over three assists per game.

Norchad Omier, sophomore forward, six-foot-seven, No. 15 — A transfer from Arkansas State, Omier comes to the ACC looking to replicate his success with the RedWolves. He was last year’s Sun Belt Player of the Year after averaging nearly 18 points and over 12 rebounds per game. He will be a key piece of Miami’s rotation that lost starting forward Sam Waardenburg from last year’s team.

Strength

Turnover margin. Last year, Miami rode its well-above-average turnover margin to the Elite Eight despite deficiencies on the roster. This year, it is once again looking like a team that will be active in forcing turnovers and careful taking care of the ball. The Hurricanes have averaged nine steals per game in their three contests this season and have turned the ball over 13 fewer times than their opponents.

Rebounding. Last season, Miami’s biggest weakness was its rebounding, much due to its lack of size on the interior. The Hurricanes are beyondbounding opponents by over six rebounds per game so far this season, but a lot of that can be chalked up to weak competition. Whether or not the addition of Omier can help alleviate their problems from last year remains to be seen.

Three things to watch this weekend

1. Will Maryland be able to command the paint? In its last two games, Maryland — led by sophomore forward Julian Reese — dominated its opponents down low. In its first game against Niagara, though, the Terps struggled to contain the Purple Eagles in the paint and allowed them to get second opportunities. That won’t be a recipe for success against better competition, so Maryland will need to at least hold its own near the basket if it’s going to have success at Mohegan Sun.

2. How will the Terps shoot from three? As has been the case with play in the paint, the Terps saw a trend begin to emerge in their most recent two games. After a solid three-point shooting performance against Niagara, Maryland couldn’t get anything to fall from the perimeter against Western Carolina or Binghamton. Willard will continue to encourage his team to take outside shots, so if they don’t start falling, Maryland could find itself behind.

3. How often will Maryland press? Willard has brought full-court pressure on multiple occasions to start the season, and he will likely continue to do so as it continues. But, with games on back-to-back days, he will have to balance bringing a high level of physical defensive intensity with keeping his players fresh. Expect to see 10 or more players get on the court for the Terps in both games.

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