The Maryland men's basketball team lost at Ohio State, 91-69, Jan. 11. The Terps fell to 14-5 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten. Here are four observations on the loss:
1. It's not an excuse for losing by 22, but Maryland was down to eight scholarship players and it showed.
Redshirt junior guard Dion Wiley was initially thought to have just been poked in the eye when he left the Terps' game against Iowa Jan. 7 early in the second half, but he turned out to have suffered a concussion. With sophomore Justin Jackson and junior Ivan Bender out for the year, Wiley's concussion meant Terps head coach Mark Turgeon was down to eight available scholarship players at Ohio State.
The end result looked familiar to the one
at Michigan State Jan. 4
. Turgeon also said after the game that his two top big men -- senior Michal Cekovsky and freshman Bruno Fernando --
were on antibiotics
, indicating they're sick or just getting over sickness. Fernando and Cekovsky played just 16 and 18 minutes despite not being in foul trouble.
Fernando and Cekovsky's lack of playing time meant more minutes for senior Sean Obi (two points in nine minutes) and redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic (11 points in 22 minutes). Neither player -- particularly Tomaic -- was expected a month ago to eventually be entrusted with meaningful minutes on the road against the quality opponents. But the injuries to Jackson and Bender mean they have to play, and when Fernando and/or Cekovsky is in foul trouble or less than 100 percent health-wise, they have to play a lot.
The absence of Wiley, who is shooting 39.7 percent from 3-point range, also hurt the Terps. Turgeon could've subbed out freshman Darryl Morsell, who played 37 minutes despite an 0-for-7 shooting performance, for Wiley had he been available. Instead, walk-on freshman Reese Mona was the backup shooting guard. The more options Turgeon has, the better chance he can find players who are playing well on that particular day.
Being limited to eight scholarship players also meant Maryland simply ran out of lineups that could work on the offensive end. At one point in the first half, Turgeon had Obi, Cekovsky and Morsell -- three non-shooters -- on the floor at the same time, which doesn't allow the necessary spacing for sophomore Anthony Cowan Jr. to drive. And in the second half, Turgeon briefly tried Nickens and Tomaic at center, which is a stretch for both.
Having just eight scholarship players also forced Turgeon to try a 2-3 zone defense in the first half, with the idea likely being to keep his regulars out of foul trouble and keep their legs fresh. It backfired. Ohio State shot well from 3-point range as the Terps struggled with the zone; they didn't close out well on 3-point shooters and weren't active enough to make passing lanes hard to find.
2. Losing Jackson was a killer, and it might hurt most on the defensive end.
Once Jackson was shut down at the end of December, Maryland's ability defend taller wings became a concern. Huerter and Morsell are quality defenders, but they're more suited to guard perimeter players. Jackson, a high effort defender with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, was Maryland's answer for power forwards who could stretch the floor with their shot and score inside, as well.
That concern became real when 6-foot-11 power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. hit five 3-pointers for Michigan State Jan. 4. The Spartans' Jackson would've been the responsibility of the Terps' Jackson had he been healthy. Instead, Cekovsky was forced to chase him out to the 3-point line rather than protect the rim.
It happened again Jan. 11. Keita Bates-Diop, who's been perhaps the best player in the Big Ten so far this year, scored 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting and made six 3-pointers. Jackson likely would've guarded the 6-foot-7 Bates-Diop if available. Instead, the Terps tried a host of defenders on Bates-Diop, none of whom were able to contain him.
The problem isn't going away. Maryland plays at Michigan Jan. 15. One of the Wolverines' top players is Moritz Wagner, a 6-foot-11 forward who averages 13.9 points per game and shoots 37.5 percent from 3-point range. He might give the Terps fits.
3. Maryland's defense has been lackluster recently and it's not all because of Jackson's absence.
Terps finished their nonconference schedule
, they ranked 20th in defensive efficiency on kenpom.com, a college basketball analytics site. Maryland now ranks 60th in the same metric. Most pointedly, the Terps gave up 91 points at Michigan State Jan. 4 and at Ohio State Jan. 11.
The Spartans were 16-of-28 from 3-point range and shot 57.1 percent from the field overall. The Buckeyes, meantime, were 17-of-29 from long distance and shot 56.1 percent overall. The Terps contributed to those numbers in both contests, from their closeouts on 3-point shooters to their transition defense. The energy on the defensive end appeared lacking during the loss to the Buckeyes in particular.
However, Michigan State and Ohio State are two of the best offensive teams in the Big Ten, with the Spartans ranking 13th in the nation in offensive efficiency on KenPom and the Buckeyes 26th. It remains to be seen whether the Terps simply ran into quality teams who shot the lights out in their own gyms or if they have some issues on the defensive end.
4. Maryland has work to do on the road to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
The Terps secured a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year largely based on their work on the road during Big Ten play. Maryland went 7-2 in road games, including wins at tournament-bound Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern. This year, the Terps are
one play away
from being 0-3 on the road during conference play.
Maryland has six more road games, with contests at Michigan Jan. 15, Indiana Jan. 22, Purdue Jan. 31 and Nebraska Feb. 13 in particular looking like opportunities to make up for lost ground. Considering the best win the Terps have secured to this point is Butler, those remaining road games appear vital to whether Maryland will have an NCAA Tournament-quality resume or not.