We’ll get a good look at mid-level Big Ten and Big East teams going against each other in the first round and it truly could go either way. Despite being the 6-seed, Maryland opened as just -2 point favorites against Xavier as seen at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
The Terrapins weren’t supposed to be that good this year, but a great freshmen class turned things around and they were near the top of the Big Ten standings for a good portion of the season before trailing off late. They had some decent non-Conference wins (K State, OK State), but lost big at home against Pittsburgh. As for Xavier, the situation is a little less clear without Edmund Sumner at point guard. since their star guard went down, the Musketeers are just 6-7 overall with three of those wins coming against DePaul. They beat Butler in the Big East Tournament, but that doesn’t make this group easy to trust.
Of course, Maryland is in that boat too, losing five of its final nine Games in the regular season then losing to Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament. The Terps have the slight edge because of Melo Trimble at point guard and their ability to match whatever Xavier throws at them. The Musketeers still have some playmakers even without Sumner, but Trevon Bluiett and J.P. MACura are both needed to go off for Xavier to beat anyone relevant. Bluiett will be matched up with the extremely lengthy freshman Justin Jackson and that means MACura may be the guy that needs to have success.
MACura is a guy that can get hot from deep and without size for Maryland on the perimeter, that could be possible a la Xavier’s loss to Creighton when MACura dropped six threes. The Terps are expected to do plenty of switching with Trimble, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter on top, as well as Jared Nickens off the bench. Stopping MACura and Malcolm Bernard from getting open looks will be the main goal for Maryland. Xavier’s size edge should also come up on the boards, an area Maryland struggles at, especially on the defensive end. If the Musketeers are making shots or at least getting offensive boards, the Terrapins are already in a hole. That’s where senior Damonte Dodd or Ivan Bender have to show up.
But Maryland is favored because of its guard play and that’s an area where they can have success too. While MACura may have a size advantage, he’s going to be outmatched athletically no matter who he tries to defend, even if it’s Huerter. Trimble and Cowan are both quick guards that should be able to get to the hoop against any Xavier defender. The question will be if Jackson can make Bluiett or Bernard work on the defensive end.
Xavier has played some zone throughout the year, but that may not work against this team with Four guys always on the cOurt that can make threes consistently (even if Trimble and Cowan aren’t all that reliable). Quentin Goodin has been solid as the fill-in point guard, but against Trimble, will have to show his worth once more. The Musketeers have a lot of advantages in this Game due to size, but if Goodin and the guards can’t keep Trimble in check, the Terps will walk away with a win.
Our Pick – Xavier +2