Big Ten/ACC Challenge: Northwestern-Maryland preview

Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

Northwestern will try to push a record four-game win streak in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge to a fifth year when they face Maryland, hoping to stay undefeated and give their newest conference frienemy a bad first taste of the Big Ten.

Northwestern comes home after winning the South Padre Invitational to face the Maryland Terrapins, those guys who are now in our conference but we're now playing them specifically because they're in another conference. Northwestern has won four straight matchups in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the most any school has ever put together, in large part since they do a nice job of scheduling the Cats against pretty much the least appetizing opponent possible in a given year - FSU, NC State, two years of Georgia Tech - and while Maryland doesn't necessarily fit that description, they aren't the cream of the ACC crop.

But still, they're part of the ACC crop for now - in basketball, that crop is wheat, in football, uh, sorghum? That's a thing, right - and Northwestern will try to push that ACC win streak to five and move to 7-0 on the season.

Are they good?: Sure. Kenpom says that Maryland won't be the best team Northwestern has played thus far this year - that'd be Illinois State - but they've definitely gotten off to a strong start, losing by only three to Kentucky in a season opener at the Barclays Center and rolling through the rest of their schedule thus far. They only beat Lafayette by nine, but let's toss that in there with the Mississippi Valley State win for Northwestern and focus on their good outings instead. I really thought this team would struggle, as a sub-par ACC team that lost Terrell Stoglin, who essentially accounted for their entire offense last season, but early indicators are that Mark Turgeon has made something out of this squad.

Ehh, boring. Summarize in video form. Okay.

Who they got?: For starters, there's Alex Len, the 7-foot-1 Ukrainian who is a) not weak b) having a massive improvement on last season, leading the team with 15.6 points per game after being sixth on the team last season. His 23-point, 12-rebound outing against Kentucky was probably what held the team close.

After that, the important player is Dez Wells, the Xavier transfer - a rangy swingman who played a decent role on last year's Sweet 16 team, but to make a long story short from my understanding, Xavier used him as somewhat of a scapegoat for their lax sexual harassment policies and expelled him little cause, causing the NCAA to make him immediately eligible. Two players boast fascinating statlines, Pe'Shon Howard, who averages 7.0 assists a game but is only 3-for-15 from the field on the season - 2-for-7 from three, though! - and Charles Mitchell, a freshman who is averaging 7.8 rebounds a game in 17 minutes of court time, good for the No. 10 ORB% in the country.

So, conference bros, huh?: Yeah, now Maryland's in the Big Ten. I'm warning you about this now: by 8:30, you'll need to have mastered your ability not to hop on a plane to kill the ESPN announcer who will say this 32 times by halftime, so if you need to let some steam out, here's the place. I've gotta say, it doesn't hurt from a basketball perspective: the Terps are historically good and only getting better. Nebraska really added nothing from a basketball standpoint, and all Rutgers will bring is the fact that "Quincy Douby" is funny to say and Fred Hill is wistful, but the Terps aren't derpish from a hoops standpoint.

It's basically like no matter who wins, the Big Ten should get a point, right?: Ughhh just shut up boldface questions guy we get it conference realignment nobody's impressed

What are they good at?: Boarding! Thanks to Len and Mitchell, they have the No. 1 offensive rebound rate in the country, grabbing 49.5 percent of their misses. That's not cool. If 50 percent of the things I failed at in any given field were wiped out and I was given a blank slate to try again, I would live a horrifically reckless lifestyle and would be arrested for one of a) disorderly conduct b) grand larceny or c) public nudity on a daily basis. But that's not the way it should work. Maybe this is a fun episode of Mystery Small Sample Size Theater, but regardless, I now know what Mortal Kombat characters think when they get thrown off the edge in that one stage where the ground is a floor filled with spikes and they're eight feet away from the spikes. Oddly enough, that doesn't transfer over to defensive rebound, where they're slightly below average.

Wait, so what's a terrapin?: A turtle that lives in fresh or brackish water.

What's brackish water?: Former Iowa State forward Craig Brackins' urine or bilious fluids.

What's the most sadistic way to kill a terrapin?: That's a pretty messed up question. Regardless, I'll answer: grab it by the shell, hold it with one hand on the top shell and one on the bottom just out of water for as long as you need.

What are they bad at?: Committing fouls - they have the sixth-worst FT/FGA in the country.

What's the basketball equivalent of starting a linebacker at quarterback?: This video:

Difference between the amount of times Maryland has made the NCAA Tourney and the amount of times Northwestern has: 24, including the NCAA Championship in 2002 where Steve Francis (editor's note: stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid) Chris Wilcox, and Juan Dixon beat Jared Jeffries and Indiana. Three of those guys played on the Knicks at some point, so I'm pretty bummed right now.

Names: Uh, Pe'Shon Howard wasn't good enough for you? I also feel its worth pointing out that if Terrapin walk-on Varun Ram - a transfer from Trinity - gets in the game, we could have the first Indian-on-Indian major college basketball play ever if he faces off against Sanjay Lumpkin.

Should NU win?: If Kenpom's to be trusted, yezzir: NU are 76 percent favorites to win. I think they will.

How?: If Northwestern can do a passable job on the defensive boards, they'll win this game. The 1-3-1 is a dangerous beast against this squad: besides senior gunner Logan Aronholt (who plays under ten minutes a game), nobody on this team can really shoot, especially not primary distributors Howard and Nick Faust. Hitting them with a zone could kill their game plan and force lesser shooters to carry a load while keeping the ball away from Len and others until a shot goes up, but once a shot goes up, there's no way NU can keep it from their bigs from a set as averse to rebounding as the 1-3-1. I think you keep it shelved except maybe for moments here and there, hoping Alex Olah can do what Kentucky's defenders couldn't and stick Len one-on-one. With the centers occupied, it'll be on the other four guys to crash the boards - here's where Jared Swopshire can continue a decent run of play and earn a win for the Cats.

So 8:15 on ESPN2. Be here! Or at the game!

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