Maryland at Clemson

Maryland (13-9, 3-5) at Clemson (11-11, 3-5), 7:00 PM, ESPNU

K.J. McDaniels has emerged as a playmaker for Clemson.

Despite all the tough losses, Clemson continues to play hard and the Tigers have lost only one ACC game at home so far (to Duke). If Clemson wants to be in the hunt for a top-four ACC Tournament seed, the Tigers have to win their next two games (Maryland at home and Wake Forest on the road). Maryland hasn’t won a road game this season but the Terrapins have been competitive. Frankly, they’ve been competitive in every game under head coach Mark Turgeon. The loss to North Carolina has to be disappointing, but his young team has bounced back from tough defeats multiple times already this year. Winning in Clemson would be a tough task, though.

Stat to watch: Turnovers. Clemson’s offense has struggled mightily to score in the halfcourt, but it has done well when forcing turnovers. And so playing two teams that are not turnover-prone (Virginia and Virginia Tech), they are left with two close losses. Virginia and Virginia Tech combined for just a 14.5% loss of ball compared to Clemson forcing 21.6% in its first six ACC games. But those games were on the road and at home, Clemson has been forcing turnovers in bunches in ACC play. Clemson’s four home ACC opponents have averaged just 0.78 points per possession and 21.5% loss of ball compared to 1.04 points per possession allowed and 18.2% loss of ball on the road.

Maryland has taken pretty good care of the ball all year, averaging just 13 turnovers a game (that goes up to 14 in ACC play). They’ve slipped a bit recently: Maryland has averaged 16 turnovers in the last three games. The Terrapins had just 13 against North Carolina, Still, they were ill-timed: six of Maryland’s turnovers came in a six-minute second-half stretch that allowed Carolina to go on an 18-9 run and take a seven-point lead with 9:24 to go. In the other 34 minutes, Maryland turned it over just seven times and Carolina scored only four points off of those turnovers. They had 14 points off turnovers in just that six-minute span.

Maryland’s other problem is that they can’t force turnovers or capitalize on them when they do. From the 13:52 mark of the first half until the 19:02 mark of the second, Maryland turned seven Carolina turnovers into 11 points. In the other 25 minutes, Maryland turned Carolina’s seven turnovers into no points. Against Miami and Duke, Maryland forced a total of 25 turnovers. They turned those into 18 points (0.72 points per possession) and turned it back over nine times, nearly a 36% loss of ball on those possessions. In all other possessions in both games, Maryland averaged 0.92 points per possession and had just a 13.9% loss of ball. The Terrapins need to be a bit more aggressive and then take advantage of turnovers when they do happen.

Most important players: Alex Len, Maryland and K.J. McDaniels, Clemson. Maryland freshman Alex Len had understandably looked uncomfortable in ACC play, but he has averaged 12.5 points on 9-of-14 shooting in the last two games against North Carolina and Miami, adding 4.0 blocks and 8.0 rebounds. In the previous five ACC games, he had averaged 2.6 points on 30.8% shooting and 3.2 rebounds. The Washington Post’s Liz Clarke detailed the reasons for Len’s resurgence, including head coach Mark Turgeon simplifying things for the talented 7-footer. Against North Carolina, Len wasn’t bothered much by Carolina’s length but Clemson’s 7-foot-2 Catalin “Bobo” Baciu could give Len some problems, although Len’s confidence seems to be at an all-time high.

Clemson freshman K.J. McDaniels is not your typical Clemson player this year. The Tigers are mostly ordinary athletically and limited offensively, making good, solid plays but nothing spectacular (especially as Milton Jennings has been sidelined/limited). McDaniels is the notable exception. It’s not just his 33 points in 75 minutes of ACC action (or his 14 in a season-high 28 minutes at Virginia Tech). It’s his high-flying dunks, his shot-blocking (he had five at Virginia Tech) and his play-making ability that has Clemson fans optimistic. From the Shakin the Southland blog:

K.J. McDaniels dunks at will. The kid has phenomenal athleticism. And he’s so smooth and under control … He played a great, great game and will continue to see significant minutes. Clemson fans should be giddy about this kid. His ceiling is ridiculously high.

Clemson head coach Brad Brownell was cautiously optimistic about the freshman on Monday, which is understandable. He’s seen the other freshmen like T.J. Sapp and Rod Hall have great games and then fade away. But McDaniels has shown a gear that those other two haven’t, and he appears to be an elite talent. “He’s a little bit like a young fawn sometimes. He doesn’t always have his legs under him and the speed of the game at times can put him a little bit behind, but I think the game has slowed down a little bit for him here in the last month or so,” Brownell said. “He’s shown signs of doing some really good things and other times have looked very average. We’re just hoping that there’s going to be some consistency in his game.”

Random stat(s): Ken Pomeroy’s “Luck” rankings can be found here, but suffice to say that Maryland is No. 1 in the ACC and sixth nationally in Luck (+.122). Pomeroy’s system has not thought much of Maryland all season as their highest ranking has been since 2012 began is 135th, where it is now. But they will be facing the unluckiest team in not just the ACC, but also the entire country, tonight in Clemson (-.142). Pomeroy’s calculations love the Tigers: they are 91st in his rankings and the lowest they have been ranked is 106th.

Prediction: Clemson 69, Maryland 61

 

Last week: 10-2

Season: 100-33 (36-14 ACC)

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