Maryland’s 74-65 loss at Michigan State in men’s basketball highlighted a few glaring issues Saturday night, the least of which being the Spartans’ godawful uniforms.
Coach Tom Izzo’s team was decked in something called “Mean Green,” a product of the “Nike Hyper Elite Disruption” line. Disrupt it did, in eye-catching, mind-numbing, stomach-turning neon fashion, complete with matching shoes, shorts and undergarments. Waves of fans in the arena wore matching neon-green T-shirts, undoubtedly to increase dizziness for the visitors from College Park.
Considering that the Spartans broke a three-game losing streak, they might want to don the hideous outfits until they lose again. In the meantime, No. 8 Maryland can concentrate on rebounding – figuratively and literally – against No. 3 Iowa Thursday night in the soothing environs of Xfinity Center.
Izzo has a long-established reputation for fielding frontcourt players who seem better-suited as tight ends and linebackers, using their brawn to push around and intimidate less-physical opponents. The Spartans enjoyed a comfortable advantage on the boards, 46-36, and absolutely dominated on their end, snaring 17 offensive rebounds compared to nine by Maryland.
“I thought that’s the hardest we’ve played in years,” Izzo told reporters afterward.
Desperation can have that effect, especially on a team that’s flirting with its first four-game losing streak since the 2006-07 season. Maryland will need the same sense of urgency to overcome the Hawkeyes. Iowa has won nine straight, including a pair against Michigan State and a pair against Purdue, ranked Nos. 12 and 21, respectively.
It’s not that the Terps suit up a bunch of runts. Coach Mark Turgeon typically starts junior Robert Carter Jr. (6-9, 235 pounds), senior Jake Layman (6-9, 220 pounds) and freshman Damonte Dodd (6-11, 250 pounds), with freshman Diamond Stone (6-11, 255 pounds) as the first big off the bench. But Maryland also yielded 17 offensive rebounds when it squeaked by Northwestern in overtime on Jan. 19. Georgetown won the battle of the boards, too, offensively and overall, when it lost an early-season thriller at College Park.
The MSU game arguably came down to the last of Matt Costello’s six offensive rebounds. After closing to within 68-65 with 52 seconds left, the Terps were desperate for a stop. They forced the Spartans into a missed three-point attempt but couldn’t keep Costello off the boards. His effort led to a pair of free throws for a 70-65 lead and Maryland never got any closer.
To be fair, Turgeon had to shorten his rotation after Dodd picked up three first-half fouls. And the Terps’ transition defense was uncharacteristically porous – including an uncontested layup after a made free throw – as the Spartans finished with an 18-10 edge in fast-break points.
There’s no question that Maryland has an impressive assortment of talent, from guards Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon to the aforementioned frontcourt players. But there’s a nagging question about the team’s overall toughness and it will take more than a home win against Iowa to be answered. The Terps are 1-2 in true road games this season,
Then again, final exams are a long way off. Every Top 10 team can expect rough spells in the modern era of college basketball. Parity rules and upsets abound. Michigan State and Duke can lose three consecutive games. Kentucky can lose more games before February than it lost in all of 2011-12 and 2014-15 combined.
A Bleacher Report chart points out the midseason struggles of recent national champions. Duke lost three times in January last season. The prior season, Connecticut was a No. 7 seed. In 2013, Louisville lost three games in eight days in mid-January. UConn went 4-7 to end the regular season in 2011. In 2010, Duke lost three times in the last three weeks of January. The year before, North Carolina went 0-2 in ACC play.
The expectations that accompanied Maryland when it entered the season at No. 3 haven’t changed just because the Terps have fallen five spots. Being a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and reaching the Final Four in Houston remains the goal. That still seems as realistic now as it was before play began.
Izzo easily could’ve been speaking about Maryland in his postgame assessment of Michigan State: “We are humbled one week; we’re exhilarated the next,” he told reporters. “But we are still a good team. We are a good team that has got to get a lot better.”
There’s lots of room for improvement. Maryland can start by boxing out and getting back.
Michigan State can start by mothballing those garish uniforms.