The first day of the NCAA Tournament concluded with few upsets but a bit more chaos throughout the day. Two of those survivors meet in the second round when 3-seed LSU squares off with 6-seed Maryland in Jacksonville.
LSU escaped a late threat from 14-seed Yale on Thursday. The Tigers dominated the majority of the game, but the Bulldogs mounted a late charge with an onslaught of 3-pointers in the final minutes. Maryland, meanwhile, simply reached the finish line first in a back-and-forth affair against 11-seed Belmont that went down to the final seconds.
The winner of this matchup will meet the winner of Michigan State and Minnesota, as two Big Ten foes collide in the Round of 32.
Maryland is in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five seasons, and making its first appearance in the East Regional for the first time since winning the national championship in 2002. For LSU, 2019 marks the program’s 22nd appearance and first since '15. The Tigers’ first-round win pushed its overall NCAA Tournament record above .500 (25-24), while Maryland has enjoyed a 42-26 record in its 28 appearances (including Thursday’s win).
East Region: No. 6 Maryland Terrapins (23-10) vs. No. 3 LSU Tigers (27-6)
Time: 12:10 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Where: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Keys for Maryland
Despite Maryland’s youth — the Terrapins rank among the 10 youngest teams in the nation — their strength is in their balance. According to KenPom rankings, Maryland is one of just 10 teams to enter the field ranked 27th or better in both offensive (27th) and defensive (22nd) efficiency. Maryland enters the weekend holding opponents under 40 percent from the field (39.7 percent shooting) and to just 65.4 points per game. The Terps also are among the nation’s best in blocks and rebounds, their per game averages of 4.7 blocks and 39.2 rebounds place them among the top 25 in both categories.
Bruno Fernando, who entered the Tournament leading the Big Ten in double-doubles (15) and rebounds (11.4) in conference play, had a strong game against Belmont with 14 points and 13 boards. Jalen Smith led all Terrapins with 19 points in the win — including a key basket while drawing a foul with under two minutes to play — while also chipping in 12 rebounds.
Keys for LSU
LSU is among the top 20 percent of teams in terms of pace, averaging just over 70 possessions per 40 minutes. The Tigers employ a very aggressive defense that leads to the eighth-best steal rate at 9.0 per game. That pace means teams can score on the Tigers — to the tune of more than 73 points per game — but LSU responds and has outscored opponents by an average of eight points per contest. The Tigers also grab nearly 13.5 offensive rebounds per game, best in the SEC and ninth in Division I, helping to keep possession for its up-tempo offense.
Four different players finished in double figures for the Tigers against Yale, with Skylar Mays pacing LSU with 19 points in 30 minutes. Kavell Bigby-Williams contributed 10 points and as many rebounds, part of an effort that tallied 40 points in the paint against the Bulldogs.
Maryland is very efficient on both sides, and that should bode well for the Terrapins as they aren’t weak at either end of the court. They shouldn’t have a problem putting up points on the Tigers, but holding down a top-25 scoring offense in LSU (81.3 ppg) will be a test. Maryland is a very slow and deliberate team, so the difference in pace will certainly be a clash of styles.
Prediction: LSU 75, Maryland 67
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.