Maryland men’s basketball hosts No. 19 Rutgers in Big Ten opener

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Big Ten play is here, and Maryland men’s basketball looks poised to take on the challenges that come with it. After an overall uninspired performance at Clemson, Terps (4-1) will begin their Big Ten campaign at home against Rutgers (4-0). The Scarlet Knights will also be the first ranked opponent for the Terps this season. 

“It’s a pretty amazing league, which is great to see where we are nationally playing against really good teams,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. 

The No. 19 Scarlet Knights, as one of six ranked teams in the conference, have looked quite formidable despite lacking the services of their best guard, Geo Baker. The senior guard has been out since the team’s season opener due to an ankle sprain. 

With Baker out, Ron Harper Jr. has blossomed as a scorer, averaging 22 points per game while shooting 60% from the field and 45% from deep. Harper’s improvements on offense have been complemented by guards Jacob Young and Montez Mathis — who are both averaging 16 points on respectable shooting splits.

Rutgers frontcourt duo of freshman Cliff Omoruyi and junior Myles Johnson are also proven contributors for the Scarlet Knights. Omoruyi provides an efficient low-post offense, while Johnson has maintained his role as Rutgers rim protector. While it may be too early to say, this pairing does show a lot of promise in a frontcourt dominant Big Ten. 

The Knights talented backcourt coupled with their imposing frontcourt could be a handful for Maryland at home. It’s likely Rutgers will come out early forcing the issue on offense. Expect their trio of guards to push the pace on offense and score in a variety of ways, particularly through dribble penetration and drive and kick. 

In order for Maryland to win, an interior presence is crucial. A strong defensive showing from Galin Smith and Chol Marial down low could slow down the Scarlet Knight’s offensive attack. Smith has slowly been finding his role with the team and has shown his defensive ability in a halfcourt setting. However, Marial still has left a lot to be desired when it comes to defending the rim. 

“We need Chol,” Turgeon said. “Defensively is where we’re asking for the most help out of him.”

A concerted effort from both Smith and Marial will surely make things easier for the Terps. 

Maryland can also maintain control of the game by protecting the ball on offense. The Terps gave up 10 turnovers in the first half at Clemson in their last contest and the offense only produced a frigid 15 points. If Maryland brings the same effort, it can expect more of the same results, especially facing the likes of an opportunistic Rutgers squad.

“Sometimes it’s good early in the year to get punched in the mouth and figure out where you are,” Turgeon said “All we can do is try to learn from it and get better and I think we’ve done that.”

The unusual circumstances of this year make defending the Big Ten championship a unique feat. But if Maryland can find its groove early, getting back to its winning ways will be much easier. Tip off is scheduled for 6 p.m and the game will air on the Big Ten Network.