A lot of people circled this game on the schedule when it came out. And the time has finally come.
The highly anticipated matchup of UConn vs. No. 6 Maryland at Madison Square Garden has finally arrived. On Tuesday night, the Huskies (5-2) and Terps (7-1) will take the stage at the Garden to play as part of the 2015 Jimmy V Classic on ESPN.
No. 14 West Virginia vs. No. 10 Virginia will be the first game at 7 p.m. UConn and Maryland will follow at the conclusion of that game.
Tuesday night will be the seventh meeting between the two programs. UConn leads the all-time series 4-2. The last time the two played, the Huskies came out as winners with a 78-77 win on Nov. 8, 2013.
To get a better look at this Maryland team, I talked with Phillip Suitts, a senior staff writer who covers the team for The Diamondback, Maryland’s student paper.
Zampini: What is Maryland's biggest strength/weakness?
Suitts: Maryland's biggest strength is its frontcourt depth. Through eight games, three different players have started at center for the Terps — freshman Diamond Stone, sophomore Michal Cekovsky, and junior Damonte Dodd — and all three average 11.5 minutes or more.
If one player isn't performing, then coach Mark Turgeon can turn to the other two options. Plus redshirt junior forward Robert Carter Jr. has 10 or more points in all eight games and when junior Jake Layman's shot is on, he's tough to stop. He scored 15 points against Georgetown in a 75-71 win, all in the second half.
While the Terps' forwards and centers are a strength, guard Dion Wiley's season-ending knee injury created a thin Terps backcourt. The Terps starting backcourt, Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon, lead the Terps in minutes. If they get into foul trouble Turgeon has a decision to make. Keep his starters in the game or turn to reserves Jared Nickens and Jaylen Brantley. So far this season he hasn't faced that decision.
Nickens is a sharp-shooter but isn't really a point guard. Brantley is a much-ballyhooed junior college transfer but has struggled to adapt to big-time college basketball. He scored seven points Friday, but it remains to be seen if he's earned Turgeon's trust.
Zampini: Who is Maryland's most important player?
Suitts: I would probably go with the Big Ten preseason Player of the Year, sophomore guard Melo Trimble. In the Terps' biggest game of the season so far, a 89-81 loss to then No. 9 North Carolina, Trimble was the Terps star. He poured in 23 assists to go with 12 assists, although he had eight turnovers.
While Trimble had three points in the Terps' last game, an 96-55 win over St. Francis (PA), he turned distributor with seven assists and two turnovers.
Guard Rasheed Sulaimon has hit important shots in a few games, but Trimble appears to be the Terps' top offensive option going forward.
Zampini: How have the additions of Rasheed Sulaimon and Robert Carter Jr. impacted the team?
Suitts: Sulaimon and Carter have added a veteran presence to a young Terps team. Sulaimon provides a calming presence and after three years at Duke he's used to big-time situations. He had the go-ahead 3-pointer against Georgetown.
Carter is a consistent threat down low and can hit the 3-pointer on occasion. Through eight games both are already staples in the Terps starting lineup. Sulaimon and Carter are first and fourth on the team in minutes, respectively.
Zampini: There's a lot of talk about Melo Trimble's game this year, what makes him so special?
Suitts: Trimble has an innate ability to get to the foul line. This proves especially invaluable when his shot isn't falling. Against Georgetown, Trimble shot 18 free throws; as a team the Hoyas had 19 free throws.
Trimble's dribbling ability allows him to penetrate defenses and draw those fouls. When the opposing team collapses on Trimble he can kick the ball out.
Trimble's role has changed this season. Last year, he was the Terps' primary ball handler, but Sulaimon's presence allows Trimble to play off the ball more this season. He's become more of a distributor this season as well. Through eight games he's averaging 5.8 assists per game and 2.6 turnovers. Last year Trimble had three assists and 2.5 turnovers per game.
Zampini: What's your prediction for Tuesday's game?
Suitts: Maryland wins 73-67