UConn has a chance to claim what would stand as its biggest win of the season Tuesday night, as the Huskies head to Manhattan for a primetime showdown with the sixth-ranked Maryland Terrapins.
The Huskies (5-2) are unranked in the Associated Press Poll, but sit in 26th place this week. Maryland fell to No. 6 from No. 2 after losing to then-No. 9 North Carolina.
Rankings mean little in a game like this. Tuesday's game is setting up to be a close encounter. The largest line on the matchup is one-and-a-half points, but all the lines favor Maryland, according to VegasInsider.com.
To get a better idea of what UConn is up against Tuesday night, we spoke to Matt Ellentuck, who covers Maryland basketball and recruiting for SB Nation's Maryland website, Testudo Times. Matt will be at Madison Square Garden for tonight's game. Follow him on Twitter for insight from the Maryland perspective.
Here is what he had to say in response to our questions about the Terrapins:
The UConn Blog: Tuesday's loss to North Carolina was obviously a battle of two heavyweights, but what made the difference in the game? What did Maryland do well and what did it struggle with?
Matt Ellentuck: Turnovers were a real issue. Maryland committed 22 of them, and 13 came in the first half. The slow start really hurt, in addition to Marcus Paige deciding to take out his post-injury anger out on Melo Trimble and co. Trimble fought back though, as did Rasheed Sulaimon. The backcourt duo combined for 41 of 81 points, so the game wasn't all for nothing. It was a statement game for Maryland.
I'll shamelessly link to my Maryland vs. North Carolina film review.
TUB: How has the addition of Rasheed Sulaimon impacted the Terrapins this season?
Ellentuck: Sulaimon has been bigger than anyone imagined. With Maryland's expected starting shooting guard, Dion Wiley, out for the year with a torn meniscus, Sulaimon has stepped in perfectly. He's fitting in really well alongside Trimble as the team's third-leading scorer and second-best assister. The senior is stepping in as a well-needed leadership figure after Dez Wells graduated.
TUB: Robert Carter does not get as much attention around here as the other Maryland starters. What can you tell us about his game?
Ellentuck: Can we keep it that way? Keep him off your mock drafts everyone, or just disconnect him from the Internet. Carter is so polished, and truly made the most out of his transfer year. He's got great touch around the rim, shooting an unreal 71.4 percent from 2-point range. He's really anchored the Terrapins' offense and has showed up every night in some capacity. His defense though, is a work in progress, integrating to an entirely new scheme alongside Diamond Stone, Michal Cekovsky and Damonte Dodd.
TUB: Maryland beat out UConn and Wisconsin for Diamond Stone, which surely bummed out UConn center Phil Nolan, a friend of Stone's from Wisconsin. What is your impression of the coveted freshman early on?
Ellentuck: Stone has been up and down, which is fair for a freshman big man. His offense is there, and the coaching staff hasn't had to put much effort in there, but his defense has been a problem. He's been notorious for getting into early foul trouble, and coach Mark Turgeon has experimented brining him off the bench for a few games. I'd expect that will continue, but Stone has showed he's as good as the hype in some occasions. He'll get it together for March.
TUB: Many people—myself included—think Maryland can make a run to the Final Four and compete for the national title. What is one thing about the Terrapins that could prevent that from happening?
Ellentuck: Injuries. Losing Wiley before the season put the Terrapins' even. The surplus of guards would have been a royalty, but Maryland's survived well. The offense has clicked recently, and players have stepped into their roles. The talent level is there, and we haven't seen the best of Maryland yet. There isn't a single glaring factor on the court that'll hold the Terps back (assuming they can break a half court trap by then).
TUB: UConn will likely use most of its bench Tuesday night. What kind of rotation can we expect to see from Maryland?
Ellentuck: Maryland plays nine guys, and that ninth, Jaylen Brantley, is seeing an uptick in minutes. Turgeon's starting to realize that he needs a backup for Trimble in order to give him appropriate rest time as opposed to his playing 33.5 minutes per game last year, though I don't expect the UConn game to be an ideal game to sit him. The Huskies should also get ready to go big, as Turgeon likes to play big as long as he can, pairing either 6-11 Damonte Dodd or 7-1 Michal Cekovsky with 6-11 Stone for stretches.
TUB: What's different about basketball in the Big 10 compared to the ACC? Also, can UConn join you?
Ellentuck: Well, Maryland is dominating in the Big Ten, so that's different from recent ACC years. The level of play at the top is probably about equal, maybe a little lower considering the consistency of Duke, North Carolina and Virginia, but the Big Ten is clearly a deeper league. Upsets can happen on any night. UConn can come by the way, but we're really looking for some closer schools. The travel distance is pretty brutal.
TUB: How do you see this big game playing out? Will we see another puzzling corner three from a big man to seal a win late?
Ellentuck: Maryland will take this one by a comfortable 8-10 or so points, but I swear, if Amida Brimah hits his first 3-point shot of his career, I will personally walk out of Madison Square Garden and make a scene. Speaking of that game though, a 1-point loss as a mediocre team at the time to the eventual champions was pretty nice loss. Actually wait, if it means sealing the same fate I'll just take a close win.