Barclays Center Classic - Kentucky v Maryland

Maryland lost, but proves itself as an ACC contender

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NEW YORK – Maryland lost to Kentucky 72-69 on Friday night in the inaugural Barclays Center Classic in a game that will surely leave a bitter taste in the Terrapin’s mouth.

After digging themselves a 15 point hole with a combination of poor shot selection and abysmal defense, Mark Turgeon’s club completely changed the game in the second half. A 21-4 run turned what had been a 53-38 deficit into a 59-57 lead over the No. 3 ranked Wildcats, and if it wasn’t for the heroic efforts of a walk-on that didn’t even make the Maryland scouting report, the Terps could have very well left New York with a statement victory.

A tough loss indeed.

But it was one that showed the Terps truly will be a factor in the ACC race this season.

The biggest reason, quite obviously, is Maryland’s biggest player — 7-foot-1 Ukranian Alex Len. Len finished with 23 points, 12 boards and four blocks, thoroughly outplaying Kentucky’s vauned pair of seven-foot freshmen, Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Things may be different when he is forced to go up against a more physical post defender — like, for example, Miami’s Reggie Johnson or NC State’s Richard Howell, someone that can force him off of the block — but all indications, to this point, are that Len will live up to his preseason hype. And in this day and age, how many teams can say they have a legitimate, seven-foot center that is a scoring threat on the block?

“He was a huge weapon for us,” Turgeon said after the game. “We expect great things out of him. Hopefully we can give him a little more help on the perimeter moving forward.”

The end of Turgeon’s statement may actually be the most important takeaway from Friday night’s loss.

Maryland’s top four perimeter players — Dez Wells, Nick Faust, Pe’Shon Howard and Seth Allen — combined to shoot 9-43 from the field and 2-14 from three. That is, quite frankly, atrocious. But it’s also not the kind of performance that you should become accustomed to with this group. On the one hand, Maryland did get a lot of good looks from the perimeter; they just missed them. And when the Terps finally put the ball on the floor and got to the rim, they ran into a pair of seven-foot shot-blockers that will end up being first-round draft picks. That won’t happen again this season.

They fought. They battled in the paint (28 offensive rebounds). And they came back from 15 down against one of the favorites to win the national title. No one likes moral victories, but any coach would take a loss where there team went down swinging than a 20 point drubbing on national television.

I still believe that Maryland is a year away from truly contending in the ACC. But if they proved anything on Friday, it’s that they will be a factor in the league race in February and March.

“We’re gonna win, and we’re gonna win this year,” Turgeon said. “I promise you that. We just didn’t win tonight.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.