by Phil Kasiecki
Monday night’s national championship game is surely not one that many had in their brackets at the beginning of the NCAA Tournament. Many probably had Maryland getting this far, but few if any imagined that the Indiana Hoosiers would be playing on Monday night.
How did they get here?
Some will look at who the Hoosiers beat en route here and note that they benefited from upsets, as the Hoosiers beat three double-digit seeds to get this far. But the Hoosiers have shown that they can beat the best, as they upset Duke in the regional semifinal, then beat Oklahoma on Saturday. The Hoosiers have done it primarily with great shooting and good defense.
The Terrapins were expected to get here. They were the number one seed that faced the winner of the play-in game, and they have made it with big wins over Kentucky and Connecticut in the regional semifinals and finals, respectively, before nearly blowing a big lead in the semifinal against Kansas, just as they did last year in losing to Duke in the national semifinal.
The key individual matchup will be at the point, where the teams are fairly even on paper. Both teams don’t look to their point guards to score much, but how they run the team and defend the opposing point man can make the difference. Steve Blake has more big-game experience than Tom Coverdale, and has had his share of big games even against good point guards. He also has gotten into foul trouble on occasion as well, even though he can play very good defense. Coverdale is still nursing an ankle injury, which may appreciably affect his play.
For the Hoosiers, Jeffrey Newton will be the key player. He came through with the game of his life in the semifinal, and against the deep Maryland frontcourt, he will be needed again and especially if Jared Jeffries gets in foul trouble early, as he did against Oklahoma.
Also keep an eye on Donald Perry for the Hoosiers, as he has provided a big spark off the bench in both upsets. He gave them an immediate boost against Duke, then made big shots on Saturday against Oklahoma and filled in nicely for Tom Coverdale. With Coverdale still not 100% for the championship game, Perry will likely be counted on for production again. He may be the upstart freshman that comes through in the big game this time around.
For the Terrapins, Chris Wilcox continues to play well of late. He had a big game Saturday against Kansas, and will be a tough matchup on the post for anyone Indiana has including Jeffries. He has quick post moves, goes up strong, and runs the floor as well as any post player, enabling him to get fast break baskets.
Maryland will need Lonny Baxter to come through in this game. Dixon showed again that he can come up big, but after getting the East region MVP, Baxter did very little on Saturday with foul trouble. If he comes through as he is capable of, the Hoosiers could be in for a long night at the defensive end; otherwise, the Terrapins will need another big effort from others on the post.
The biggest key to this game is the tempo. While the Terrapins didn’t beat Kansas in a running game, they are capable of running and that is not the kind of game the Hoosiers excel at. The Hoosiers want to slow the pace down, and while the Terrapins can win games in the halfcourt, the Hoosiers have a better chance. If the game is played at a slow pace, the Terrapins have to get the ball inside, as they have a clear advantage there and it showed against Kansas.
Look for the Hoosiers to do what they did against Oklahoma – ball control, precision offense, and defensive emphasis. Maryland will look to do much of what they did against Kansas, notably, use their frontcourt depth and pound the ball inside. Another key will be the backcourt defense of Maryland – if they get into foul trouble, depth is a problem there and might hurt them. Another thing the Terrapins should do, but might not try, is something Oklahoma did not do – test Coverdale by guarding him full-court, instead of picking him up at mid-court.
Prediction: The Hoosiers have had a great run, knocking off two excellent teams along the way. But Maryland can run with them and play in the halfcourt set, and they have too much depth up front and experience, and that along with their drive to make up for last year should lead to their first national championship.
Prediction: Maryland 85, Indiana 72.