Welcome, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, to the 2012-13 college basketball season. Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats and the Maryland Terrapins kick off their respective seasons with a contest in the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, in the inaugural Barclays Center Classic.
This marks the fourth year in a row in which Kentucky under head coach John Calipari brings a lineup with at least three new players into the fray. In this particular case, the Wildcats have perhaps more freshman starters than ever, depending upon who takes the floor tonight for tip off.
Maryland and Kentucky have played each other 13 times, of which Kentucky has won 7. Over time the results look like this:
- Pre-1950: Kentucky played the Terrapins 3 times between 1928 and 1931 when both were members of the Southern Conference. Maryland won 2 to Kentucky's 1.
- In the 1950's, Kentucky played Maryland 4 times, winning 3. The one lone loss came in 1957 at Maryland, 62-71.
- 1988-2002 - In this time period, the Wildcats played Maryland more times than in any other. Kentucky was 4-2 against the Terrapins with all the wins coming under Rick Pitino, and all the losses coming under Tubby Smith. It's interesting that Smith never defeated the flagship school from his home state while he was at UK. The last, and most recent game against the Terps came in 2002 in the NCAA East Regional Semifinal, where Kentucky was defeated by 10, 68-78. Maryland went on to claim the NCAA Tournament title that year.
A Look At Maryland
Like Kentucky, Maryland will have a very different team than last year with only 5 players returning from the 2011-12 squad, although four of them are important. Guards Nick Faust (6'6" 175# sophomore) and Pe'Shon Howard (6'3" 185# junior), center Alex Len (7'1" 225# sophomore) and forward James Padgett (6'8" 225# senior) return from last year's team. Together, these for were responsible for about 36% of the team's points and played about 40% of the minutes. They represent the third through sixth leading scorers and Padget was the leading rebounder at around 6 per game, over half of them offensive.
Maryland fans will not want to talk about last season, as they were only 17-15 overall and 6-10 in the ACC, a not-so-stellar 8th, and as you might expect, left them with no post-season whatsoever.
This season, impact transfer Dezmine Wells from Xavier, who has been granted a waiver for the transfer rule year in residence and may play right away, should immediately make Maryland better. Wells, as a freshman, averaged 26 minutes and 9.8 points per game. He is an athletic guard who qualifies as more of a slasher than a scorer, and is not a primary 3-point threat, although he did shoot a respectable 37% from the arc last year.
Another transfer whom the Terps hope will make an impact is senior guard Logan Aronhalt, who transferred to Maryland from University of Albany Great Danes. Aronhalt was the third leading scorer for Albany last year at almost 14 points per game. Aronhalt is a graduate student, like Julius Mays, who's course of study wasn't offered at Albany.
Finally, the Terrapins added a solid recruiting class including 6'9" 270# freshman center Shaquille Cleare, 6'8" 260 forward Charles Mitchell, and 6'8"190# swing forward Jake Layman. All these players were Rivals 4* players, Cleare #53, Mitchell #92, and Layman #70.
Handicapping the game
This game is fairly easy to handicap as far as style of play goes. Maryland is going to try to post up Kentucky's lighter players at every available opportunity. The Maryland guys have a lot of bulk, and their main objective is going to be to out-muscle Kentucky and gather as many offensive rebounds as possible. This is a very big Maryland team, every bit as tall as Kentucky is.
Also, much like Kyle Wiltjer, Alex Len is a "stretch" big man from Europe with range out to the 3-point line. Maryland was not a good 3-point shooting team last year, and they really haven't brought in any major 3-point threats with their transfers. So the Terps are going to look to take most of their shots inside the arc, preferably inside the paint.
Where Maryland is going to have trouble is keeping up with this young Kentucky team. None of their guards is a match for Archie Goodwin's freakish speed, and none of their big men are going to run the floor like Willie Cauley-Stein and Nerlens Noel. So if this game gets into an up-and-down affair, the Wildcats have a significant advantage.
Kentucky also enjoys an advantage from the perimeter. Wiltjer, Ryan Harrow and Julius Mays can all shoot lights-out from the arc, Alex Poythress has shown a good touch from out there, and together they present unique difficulties for Maryland's defense if they try to pack it in to protect the basket against the dribble drive from Goodwin and Harrow on the wing. I have a feeling that Maryland coach Mark Turgeon will zone a lot in this game to protect the rim from Kentucky's slashers and force us to make the perimeter shot. That would seem to be a good strategy for Kentucky also, except you know that John Calipari is not going to play a single possession of zone.
The key to this game will be Kentucky's defensive intensity. If they are able to ratchet that up as much as they were able to at times during the pre-season, Maryland is going to have major problems. Cauley-Stein and Noel have to avoid getting pinned in the post by the bigger Maryland forwards, and must force the Terps to try to lob the ball inside where Kentucky's athleticism will be the most effective.
Both these teams have a lot of new parts, so don't be fooled by Maryland's greater experience. Without the addition of the freshmen and Dez Wells, Maryland would be at a major disadvantage in this game. Wells gives them some punch off the bounce, but they still have a wide distance between the skill and athleticism of Kentucky's best players, and their own.
It is not my wont to predict winners, but I like Kentucky's chances in this game. Maryland will be very tough next year, but this year, I think the combination of all the new pieces plus the youth of some of their best players, who as 4*'s need some development, will be their undoing against the raw talent and athleticism of Kentucky.