Maryland confident it can beat West Virginia's press

Can Maryland make West Virginia pay for pressing all over the court in the NCAA tournament?

There are often several ways to dissect what one college basketball team has to do to beat another in the NCAA tournament, particularly if the teams are close in terms of talent and pedigree.

In assessing what fourth-seeded Maryland (28-6) needs to do against fifth-seeded West Virginia (24-9) here at Nationwide Arena in Sunday's Round of 32 game, it's pretty clear-cut.

The Terps have to be able to handle a team that calls itself "Press Virginia" to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003. If allowed, the Mountaineers would start defending Maryland the moment it came off the team bus.

"It's going to take us a little while to get used to the frenetic pace that they play at and their pressure, but hopefully we'll handle it, be strong with the ball and then make good decisions, not only in the press but once we cross halfcourt," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Saturday.

Junior forward Jake Layman, whose job it will be to inbound the ball in most situations and then help attack both the press and the zone West Virginia oftens settles into, said that the adjustment needs to be pretty fast.

"I think the first four minutes is going to be big in this game, kind of let them know that their press and their pressure is not going to affect us," Layman said.

Though the Terps have not played a team that was both as relentless and as physical as West Virginia — the Mountaineers lead the nation in fouls committed — Maryland has a positive memory of a team that relied mostly on its press.

One of the early season signature wins for the Terps came at Oklahoma State, where the Cowboys tried unsuccessfully to take advantage of the loud home crowd, a relatively inexperienced freshman point guard in Melo Trimble and a Maryland team playing without injured senior guard Dez Wells.

The Terps won 73-64 after getting off to a good start and building as much as a 16-point lead in the second half.

Trimble, who became the first freshman point guard in seven years to be named first-team All-Big Ten, said it took him only a few possessions — and one early turnover — to get accustomed to playing against Oklahoma State's press. Trimble wound up with 15 points, four assists and four turnovers.

"I was very nervous, I'd seen the film and I just had to know how to go against their press and play with poise," Trimble recalled of the Dec. 21 game. "I think now that we're in the [NCAA] tournament, we play with more poise now that we've seen how they press and just be more calm, be more confident with the ball."

Senior guard Richaud Pack, one of several Terps who will try to take some pressure off Trimble handling the ball, said "I think he'll be fine. Whenever he's focused and we're focused as a team and in the right spots, we get it done and we handle pressure well."

Unlike the Oklahoma State game, when the Terps were coming off final exam break and had several days to prepare, Maryland had only a little more than day to get ready for the Mountaineers.

About the only positive Turgeon would take from the late start (8:40 p.m. EST at the earliest) was the extra time for preparation and recovery.

"West Virginia plays a style that we haven't seen all year, so we'll have to prepare for that," Turgeon said. "They don't allow you to run much offense or do anything like that. We have different press offenses in and different things we do that we've done."

The Mountaineers have always played a physical style under Bob Huggins — just as his teams at Cincinnati did for years. The transformation of a mostly pressing team came prior to the season, when Huggins had his players get up at 6 a.m. for conditioning drills.

"That press has kind of made us who were are today," said 6-foot-7, 220-pound junior forward Jonathan Holton, who is one of the key players in the press while also leading the Mountaineers in blocked shots. "You can tell when a team is frustrated. Players stay away from the ball."

Unlike Buffalo, which committed 17 turnovers in Friday's 68-62 loss to the Mountaineers, Wells said he believes that Maryland's size and strength in the backcourt could be an advantage. In addition to Pack (6-4), freshmen Dion Wiley (6-4) and Jared Nickens (6-7) will also see action.

"We do have big guards," said the 6-5, 205-pound Wells. "But they're a great team. So we just have to prepare for them and be ready for whatever they throw at us. They like to play high octane and like to force turnovers. I think we've done a great job in those situations. But I'm ready for the challenge."

Buffalo coach Bobby Hurley, who had five days to prepare for West Virginia and then watched as his team fell behind quickly by double digits, said Friday that "we tried to simulate the speed and the pace that they would come at us. But it's hard to simulate that."

The press is not the only problem Maryland faces against the Mountaineers. West Virginia is bigger and stronger than the Terps up front, maybe even more than any opponent the Terps have faced since Purdue, which featured 7-footers Isaac Haas and A.J. Hammons. Maryland won in West Lafayette, Ind., 69-60, on Jan. 10.

Wells said he thinks the Mountaineers will have their own issues matching up.

"I think it's really hard to guard us in man [to man] because we have so many good shooters and so many guys that can penetrate," said Wells, who in being Maryland's secondary ballhandler aside from Trimble has struggled at times with turnovers. "From what I saw, they press back into zone. So trying to figure out the key to breaking that zone and their press will be essential for us."

Said Layman, "I think this team handles presses very well. I think we're ready for it."

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No. 4 Maryland vs. No. 5 West Virginia

When: Sunday, 8:40 p.m.

Where: Nationwide Arena; Columbus, Ohio

TV: TNT

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