Maryland escaped the blizzard in the Mid-Atlantic and will face Michigan State on Saturday evening in East Lansing.
Here are five things you need to know.
1) A little different feel
All three of Maryland’s game against Michigan State were memorable last season and it is quickly becoming the marquee game of the conference season -- something to provide relief for those still longing for those ACC rivalries.
With the Spartans coming in on a three-game losing streak, though, this isn’t feeling much like a conference tournament championship game preview just yet. But I’m not going to be the first guy to step up to the plate and count out a Tom Izzo-coached team.
Road games in conference are tough. Trying to slam the brakes on a three-game skid is more than enough for the Spartans to get up for this game.
2) It all starts with Denzel
The Terrapins have faced talented players this season, but they have yet to face a player as versatile as Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine. After beginning the season on an unbelievable tear, he has battled injuries and missed time, but now he is here, back and in the National Player of the Year conversation again.
He is a triple-double threat every time he gets on the floor, averaging 18.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game. Without him, the rest of the Michigan State machine doesn’t run with the same level of efficiency.
Lately, things have been more complicated. With Tum Tum Nairn out of the lineup, it makes the point guard situation murkier and the Spartans are less able to emphasize Valentine’s strength as a facilitator once the offense has been initiated.
3) But that’s not all with Tum Tum
In addition to being Michigan State’s most reliable point guard, Nairn is the team’s best perimeter defender. Without him, like in this week’s lost to Nebraska, it is clear that defense becomes an issue for the Spartans.
Who guards Melo Trimble now? Yes, you’ll sarcastically tell me that Nairn himself could not do it, at least not on this broken-ankle-heard-round-the-world crossover and stepback three from Trimble with Nairn on him last season.
But he was their best bet. Now it becomes a continual shuffling of cards because then who guards Rasheed Sulaimon? Who guard Jake Layman? Maryland's depth of talent necessitates those questions.
4) That’s good news for Maryland
There is a common thread between the three teams that have beaten Michigan State during this Spartan skid -- Iowa, Wisconsin, and Nebraska can all throw versatile lineups at you and they can all shoot from the outside from the one through four spots.
The result? A Michigan State team that hit 11 threes and shot 61 percent from deep against Nebraska while still losing the game.
Maryland can play the same way. Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Layman, and even Robert Carter, Jr. and Diamond Stone will at the very least keep you honest -- or, on the other end of the spectrum, bury you -- from 15 feet and beyond. The more chasing Maryland can make Michigan State do on the defensive end of the floor, the better off they’ll be.
The second part of that is simply hitting the shots. Maryland had about as stark a contrast between two games as you’ll see from one team in college basketball. They posted 100 points in a blowout win over Ohio State, only to be ground to a halt in an overtime win over Northwestern.
5) Less interior worries, plus the bench
Michal Cekovsky is expected to be available for the Terrapins after sitting out Tuesday’s game vs. Northwestern with an illness. With Ceko out and Stone in foul trouble, Maryland encountered its first real frontcourt depth issues this season in that game.
But it should not be an issue against Michigan State. Talent-wise, this group should set the pace against Spartan bigs. The only question could be effort and toughness. Northwestern had far too many offensive rebounds on Tuesday -- many of which were just a result of going after the ball harder.
Defense and rebounding off the bench will be big, and some shot-making from Jared Nickens would be a nice added bonus.