1. Can Darryl Morsell limit UConn star James Bouknight?
Senior guard Darryl Morsell is the heart and soul of Maryland and the leading force for a defense that allowed the second-fewest points per game in the Big Ten. But on Saturday night, the Baltimore native and Mount Saint Joseph graduate may face his biggest test of the season.
UConn guard James Bouknight was a first-team All-Big East selection, averaging a team-high 19 points for the Huskies. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Wednesday that the sophomore “looks like an NBA player to me when I watch him play.”
The Terps typically switch on defense, meaning the job of stopping Bouknight won’t solely depend on the efforts of Morsell. But Maryland has typically allowed Morsell, the 2021 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, to shadow the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer and this matchup should be no different.
2. Does Maryland avoid lengthy scoring droughts?
While the Terps improved their defensive efficiency to fifth-best in the Big Ten during conference play, according to KenPom, their offensive efficiency was below-average, ranking 11th. Part of that was due to extended periods without scoring.
UConn had the most efficient defense in the Big East during conference play, according to KenPom, and the Huskies allowed the fewest points per game in their conference (52.7).
After Maryland’s win over Michigan State in the second round of the Big Ten tournament, Turgeon said that the team needs “four guys, four-and-a-half guys offensively to play well for us to win.” With a thin rotation, the onus will be on players such as junior guards Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins to have strong games on offense and an additional role player such as junior forward Jairus Hamilton to provide a spark in stretches. Maryland doesn’t have to get into a track meet with UConn — the Terps aren’t equipped, either, with a 2-6 record when they allow at least 70 points. But they have to be consistent on offense.
UConn is led on offense by two guards, Bouknight and redshirt junior guard R.J. Cole, who averages 12.3 points per game. Cole, a transfer from Howard, sustained a concussion on March 12 but returned to practice Thursday and has been cleared to play, according to the Hartford Courant.
While the Huskies have a guard-oriented approach on offense, they have size in the frontcourt, as well, most notably 6-foot-9 freshman forward Adama Sanogo, who chose UConn over Maryland last spring. The Huskies have the sixth-best offensive rebound percentage in the country, according to KenPom, with nearly 37% of their boards resulting in second-chance opportunities.
The Terps have shown the ability to beat teams with size and UConn doesn’t seem to have a frontcourt player the caliber of some of the Big Ten’s elite. However, limiting second-chance points will still be crucial for a team that doesn’t have a player in its rotation taller than 6-9.
“I think we’ll just continue to play the way we’ve been playing,” Ayala said. “We have an advantage in our small lineup where we play fours at the five and stuff like that and play the post as if we’re playing Luka Garza or Kofi Cockburn. I think throughout the Big Ten we’ve seen so much and the Big Ten being so talented, I think we’ll be prepared for a lot that we’ll see in the NCAA tournament.”