The No. 24 Maryland Terrapins are set to face their biggest test of the 2018 season so far against No. 4 Virginia, a team that notably did not win an NCAA tournament game last season.
So, let’s address the elephant in the room: How much is the loss to UMBC looming over the Virginia program?
It hangs over everything this team does, and it will until the first round of this year’s NCAA tournament. Virginia’s season-opener over Towson was cathartic in many ways, given it was the first time the team had played since the UMBC debacle. But it’s clear that this team is on a mission. Being on the wrong side of history will do that to you.
Virginia has yet to give up 60 points this season. What makes this defense so good year in and year out?
To borrow a reliable maxim of coach speak, consistency. The Pack Line defense is a finely tuned machine, and Tony Bennett recruits players that know how to operate within it. The Cavaliers force opponents into low-percentage jumpers, and it works. This team also has a lot of holdovers from last season who know how the system works.
Does this team have the offense to be a serious national title contender?
It’s early, but I think they do.
De’Andre Hunter has taken his game to another level this season and looks like the guy who’ll be the team’s closer. He can pull up from behind the arc and is hard to defend when driving to the paint. Ty Jerome is a talented ball handler who can also get hot from long range, and Kyle Guy has proven to be a talented scorer. It’s clear that Hunter is the x-factor, though. He came off the bench last year and won ACC Sixth Man of the Year. It was clear his presence was missed during the UMBC game, which he was unable to play because of a fractured left wrist.
Who are the players to watch for Virginia?
This was kind of mentioned in my previous answer, but Hunter, Guy and Jerome are obviously important to keep an eye on. It’ll also be interesting to see how much Kihei Clark plays. The 5-foot-9 freshman got his first start against Wisconsin and has been praised by Bennett for his tough on-ball defense. He’s also shown the ability to knock down 3-pointers in bunches. It’s also worth watching how the Cavaliers defend Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith. Bennett has often played center Jack Salt alongside four guards, which could present some matchup problems down low against the Terps’ big duo.
Finish this sentence: Virginia wins if…
…it can contain Fernando.
Finish this sentence: Maryland wins if…
…it can disrupt Virginia’s shooters. The Cavaliers are shooting 40 percent from 3-point range but nearly let a big lead get away from them against Wisconsin when the shots weren’t falling.