The Villanova Wildcats (2-1) are scheduled to face off against the Maryland Terrapins (1-2) in their home territory on Friday night at 8:30 PM EST.
This will be a pivotal game in the 2023 Gavitt Games, which is currently knotted up at 3-3 entering Friday. Villanova-Maryland and Butler-Michigan State are the last remaining contests in this year’s series.
Maryland’s Dynamic Duo
The two players to really look out for during this game are Jahmir Young (guard) and Julian Reese. So far during this season, Young has averaged 14.7 points per game, 5.7 assists, and 1.7 steals. He is also one of only 10 active NCAA players with at least 1,900 points, 600 rebounds and 350 assists in his career.
Likewise, Reese averages 13.0 points per game, 7.7 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks, and he is known for his slam dunks at the rim. He had a tough freshman season, but he quickly rebounded during his sophomore year, as he scored double-digits in 14 of 16 games by the end of the season. He became one of the critical players of Maryland’s offense, and it is safe to assume this trend will continue.
They were two of the Terrapins’ most productive players during the 2022-23 season, where Maryland finished with a record of 22-13 overall (11-9 Big 10), which included a 10-0 record at home, and won an NCAA Tournament game. They will likely be back in the forefront this year.
Also, keep an eye on DeShawn Harris-Smith. The freshman guard has averaged 11.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game through his first few collegiate contests. The ‘Cats made Harris-Smith’s final three, but he opted to go to Maryland and has quickly carved out a role for himself.
Donta Scott is another versatile forward, who averages 8.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game. He’s a solid frontcourt contributor,while Jahari Long has been more of a defensive asset in the backcourt. He’s taken more of a role in the rotation and has been an impact player defensively. He goes way back with Willard, playing two years for him at Seton Hall, before following him over to the Terps.
Shelling up on defense
Coach Willard is known for the strength of his teams’ defense and scrappy play, which has been no different in the case of the 2023-24 season.
Last season, Maryland finished 32nd in the country in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
This year, they seem to be back on track. Despite entering Friday’s game with back-to-back losses, they’ve remained tough defensively. KenPom has them rated 33rd overall in defensive efficiency.
Their strong defense is skilled at clamping down on the perimeter and making opponents uncomfortable from the three-point line, which will be a challenge for the ‘Cats. The Terrapins value their players’ versatility on the court on both ends of the court, but especially on defense.
Last year, they held opponents to shooting just 32.3% from deep, and through three games this year, they’ve limited their foes to 30.6%.
Villanova struggled to shoot against Penn, but hopefully, the ‘Cats won’t be sleeping in the streets once again.
While they’re sound defensively, the Terrapins have struggled on the other end of the court.
As a team, they shoot just 22.6% from long range. Reese and Young carry them offensively, although Harris-Smith has been playing well so far. Outside of that, they’ve struggled to find consistent scoring.
Also, they don’t take good care of the ball. They’ve had 15 turnovers in each of their three games so far, and their turnover rate of coughing the ball up on 21.6% of possessions is among the bottom in the nation.
Maryland has also faltered in the second half and down the stretch. A close one against Davidson got away from the Terrapins late. Then, in their last outing against UAB, they gave up a comeback-sparking 13-0 run to UAB in the second half. The Blazers went on to outscore them 42-33 in the second half and won 66-63.
Hakim Hart revenge game?
The ‘Cats will be eager to take the court after that tough loss earlier in the week, but for newcomer Hakim Hart, this game will have some added significance.
He’ll be facing his former team. The graduate transfer played in 116 career games at Maryland, and was a fixture in the starting lineup there over the last three years.
Last season, he averaged 11.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals, while shooting 47.9% overall and 33.3% from deep.
After seeing 22 minutes in each of the first two games of the season, he was limited to only nine minutes of action in the loss against Penn. Despite that, the 6-foot-8 forward has demonstrated versatility on the floor and has shined, especially, as a defender.
Hopefully, he’ll get a chance to further showcase his talents. Could he be the ‘Cats secret weapon Friday night?