No. 3 Wildcats look to continue their hot start against underperforming Maryland

Joe DeNicholas

The Wildcats will face off against the Maryland Terrapins on Sunday in a marquis non-conference matchup. Maryland enters the week with a 4-2 record while Villanova remains undefeated.

The Terps return nearly every player from last year’s uneven season. Maryland’s low point last year came in an embarrassing loss to Morgan State in early January. However, by the end of the season the Terps proved their potential by defeating the eventual champion North Carolina in conference play. The team that shows up against Villanova will decide the caliber of play and level of excitement.

The Terrapins entered the season ranked No. 25 and reached as high as No. 21 before dropping back-to-back games in the Maui Invitational. They suffered their first loss 69-57 at the hands of Yancy Gates and the Cincinnati Bearcats. Coach Gary Williams’ Terps then lost to the fundamentally sound Wisconsin Badgers by a score of 78-69.

Maryland’s backcourt is led by potential All-American guard Greivis Vasquez. After flirting with the NBA, Vasquez is back for his senior campaign. His emotional play makes him one of the most identifiable players in all of college basketball. His talent was on display last year when he dropped 35 points, grabbed 11 boards and handed out 10 assists in the process of defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels. However, the Terrapin guard has not returned to last year’s form as he has struggled early on this season. His play has been characterized by numerous turnovers, inconsistent defense and ill-advised shots. Entering the week, he is averaging 11.2 points per game on 32.9 percent shooting.

Maryland’s success lives and dies with Vasquez. If Villanova can shut him down, then a Wildcat victory should be in the bag. The matchup has Wildcat fans wishing lock-down defender Reggie Redding was available to shut down Maryland’s most dangerous scorer. Another weapon in Maryland’s offense is senior Eric Hayes, who remains one of their most consistent scoring options. The 6-foot-4-inch guard enters the week averaging 11.5 points per game to go along with 2.7 assists and three rebounds. Rounding out the backcourt is sophomore Sean Mosley who is averaging 13.2 points, 3.8 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game.

Maryland’s frontcourt is not nearly as deep as their backcourt. Senior Landon Milborne is centerpiece of the Terrapin frontcourt. The 6-foot-7-inch forward is more naturally a wing ,but due to his height he is needed as a power forward to crash the boards. He is capable of shooting 3-pointers and is the team’s leading scorer with 13.7 points per game. Williams is also reliant on a pair of freshmen big men who have been largely inconsistent to start the year. Jordan Williams and James Padgett lead the team in rebounds, but they only show flashes of their potential on both ends of the floor. They lack the toughness to be able to compete physically with Villanova’s Big East caliber forwards.

Free throw shooting and rebounding have been a weakness for Maryland so far. It is shooting only 65 percent from the charity stripe. Leaving that many points at the line has hurt the Terps in their two losses. Maryland has also been out-rebounded by a combined 78-57 in their two defeats. They have been without a consistent rebounder since last season when point guard Vasquez led the team in boards.

Maryland is looking at the game against Villanova as a must-win; otherwise they face an intense uphill battle in the ACC if they want to play in the tournament. A win against the Wildcats would be their banner non-conference win and they would just have to survive ACC play to get a bid to the big dance.

Despite the absence of Mouphtaou Yarou and Redding, Villanova holds the advantage at every position. Maryland lacks the consistent secondary scoring of Vasquez, strength and depth in the interior. If Vasquez and crew play as well as they are capable of, the Terrapins could steal one away from the Wildcats.