Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.
Only a handful of games are on the schedule due to the holiday, so there isn’t a lot to choose from. Fortunately, the games that are being played are mostly pretty compelling, including the subject of this preview, #46 Maryland (3-0) against #66 Michigan St. (2-0), a first round game in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando.
First, a quick reminder that considering these teams have played only 5 games combined against basically token opposition, all the numbers in this article must be looked at with a grain of salt. We can look at the basic trends, but need to be careful about parsing the numbers too closely.
This is a great game for showing the beauty of tempo-free statistics. Looking just at point averages, we would say that the two teams have been quite similar, around 80-85 points scored and 60 allowed per game. However, in reality, we will be getting a strong contrast in styles between the slow and deliberate Tom Izzo-coached Spartans and the higher-tempo Terrapins. Also, Michigan St. has been a very efficient offensive team, and Maryland very good defensively, despite the similar overall point averages.
Michigan St. fans may have some reason to be concerned about their team’s vaunted rebounding, though this may simply be due to the blowout nature of the early games. The Spartans’ offensive rebounding rate in the first two games this season were lower than their season-long average against much better opponents last season, and given Maryland has been decent on the defensive glass, this is a battle well worth watching. The good news for the Spartans is that just about every other part of their offense has been extremely strong, especially their turnover-control and three-point shooting.
The reason this is a compelling game is that these two areas are also Maryland’s biggest defensive strengths. They have been especially strong in defending the three-point line so far, one of the best defensive numbers in the nation. When you consider that Maryland has shot well from three, and that Michigan St.’s perimeter defense has been quite poor, it looks like the three-point line might be where this game is fought and won. However, this probably won’t be the case; both coaches have consistently gotten their teams to shoot primarily from inside, not a strong area for the Terrapins. Maryland is overall quite weak inside, getting shots blocked fairly often and struggling to get offensive boards. While they’ve done enough to see off the likes of Bucknell and Vermont, they will need to find another offensive level inside against the Spartans
Raymar Morgan has been a consistently strong presence for the Spartans each of the last two seasons, and there is not reason to expect that to change this time around. Morgan isn’t a player who puts up eye-catching stat lines, but he is a very good inside player who scraps for a half-a-dozen rebounds a game, and shoots above 50% from two. While it’s early, there is one very encouraging sign from Morgan, and that is at the line. While his free throw percentage has been consistent between seasons, this year he has gotten to the line 21 times in the first two games, compared to just 19 field goals. If he can keep this improvement steady over the length of the season, he will even further augment his efficiency, not to mention his point totals.
For Maryland, Greivis Vasquez is the dominant player without question. He is on pace to take more than 500 field goal attempts this season, despite the fact he has played relatively little in the early games. He is a decent shooter, but the question is whether taking on even more of the offensive load will adversely affect his efficiency. Even when he’s not shooting, he still contributes in rebounds and assists, and is a good free throw shooter.
Michigan St. seems to have the edge to me in this encounter, as Gary Williams’ attempts to get his team to score inside will likely be thwarted by the Spartans’ interior defense. Looking at the strength of schedules so far also leans me to Michigan St., as the Spartans have yet to be tested at all, while Maryland’s numbers sagged in their most recent game, an OT win over Vermont. While this would seem to counteract my own rankings, frankly with only a few games recorded so far, they are not yet effectively predictive.
Winner: Michigan St. Margin: 5-9