Maryland freshman point guard Melo Trimble talks about getting to the NCAA tournament while playing for his dream school. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun)
Maryland opens play in the NCAA tournament against Valparaiso on Friday at about 4:40 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio. Don Markus breaks down five keys for the fourth-seeded Terps against the No. 13 Crusaders.
NO EARLY FOULS FOR WELLS
Senior guard Dez Wells needs to avoid picking up early fouls like he did against Michigan State in the Big Ten semifinals. Even though freshman point guard Melo Trimble remains the team’s single most important player in terms of the offense running efficiently, the Terps are a different team from the standpoint of confidence and energy when Wells is on the bench.
Wells, too, is a different player when he gets a quick foul or two. He seems to revert back to his first two seasons in College Park, when he would not be as engaged or in attack mode, when shackled by a couple of fouls. Though he managed to stay out of foul trouble in the second half last week against Michigan State, Wells was not a big a factor, finishing with just 10 points. Only some of that was Denzel Valentine’s defense.
The assumption is that junior forward Jake Layman will have to guard Alec Peters, a 6-foot-9, 225-pound sophomore who leads Valparaiso in scoring (16.7 points) and rebounding (6.8) and is shooting a team-best 46.2 percent (79 of 171) on 3-pointers. While Layman has to step up his offense (57 points over his past six games, including just six against Michigan State), his defense and rebounding (19 over his past six games, nine of them against Indiana in the Big Ten quarterfinals) will also be important.
For most of the season, Mark Turgeon and opposing coaches have spoken of Maryland’s “Big Three.” Layman needs to become more of the go-to guy he was earlier in the season, when Wells was injured. Some of his decline in production has to do with the offense running more through Wells and Trimble. Much of it has to do with Layman trying hard to be the ultimate teammate, sometimes to a fault. He had five assists against the Spartans, but the Terps also need him to score more.
LIMITING (AND GETTING) SECOND CHANCES
Maryland started the season giving up too many rebounds at the defensive end, often resulting in put-backs or, worse, 3-point shots for the opposition. At one point, Turgeon had players running the steps at Xfinity Center every time they failed to box out in practice. It remains an issue, though the Terps have improved their own offensive rebounding over the past month.
Valparaiso has outrebounded opponents by 7.2 per game, 13th best in the country. One of the most intriguing players in this game is Crusaders center Vashil Fernandez. The 6-10, 245-pound Jamaican has gone from barely playing as a freshman to being the Horizon League’s defensive player of the year as a senior. He had five blocks in Valpo’s league championship win over Wisconsin-Green Bay. The Terps could use production out of both Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky. Usually it’s one or the other.