Quentin Goodin FR (6-4, 197) vs Anthony Cowan FR (6-0, 170)
Cowan is a combo guard that shares ballhandling duties with Melo Trimble and he's responsible for generating a lot of offense as well. He's a good finisher in transition and also draws a lot of contact when he's driving. He's awarded free-throws on 22 percent of his possessions used. He also spots up for plenty of jumpers and uses a lot of ballscreens. Like the rest of his teammates, he gets rather sloppy with the ball at times. Maryland didn't see too much zone this season (only 16.2% of the time) but Cowan's offensive efficiency numbers took a big hit when teams played it against the Terps. He's averaging 10.5 points (42.7% FG, 32.5% 3PT), 3.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 2.3 turnovers in 29.1 minutes per game. He's not a great outside shooter but was 3-for-3 in their Big Ten tournament loss to Northwestern on Friday. Goodin played well during the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. He seems to get more and more comfortable with each passing week. He's been finishing better at the rim and he continues to be a solid defender. He averaged 9.6 points, 2.6 assists, and 2.6 rebounds per game in New York last week. He's averaging 5.0 points (35.5% FG, 25.5% 3PT), 3.2 assists, and 1.9 rebounds for the year. He'll have a size and strength advantage if he has Cowan guarding him.
Slight Edge Maryland
Malcolm Bernard SR (6-6, 197) vs Melo Trimble JR (6-3, 185)
Trimble is a bucket-getting lead guard that has a knack for hitting the big shot. The Terrapins rely heavily on him to create their offense. He by far has the highest usage rate on the team, using nearly 200 more possessions than his next closest teammate Anthony Cowan. Over 42 percent of his possessions are used in ballscreen situations, often late in the shot clock against a set defense. He also gets to the free-throw line a ton when driving to the rim. He's a capable outside shooter, a great finisher in transition, and he has a strong mid-range game. He creates a lot of open shots for his teammates with drive-and-kick passes. His biggest weakness is probably how careless he gets with the ball at times. His performance also took a hit when opponents played zone this year as he struggled to draw any fouls against them. He's averaging 17.0 points (44% FG, 32.8% 3PT), 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 3.0 turnovers in 31.9 minutes per game. Over the last five games, he's just 5-for-29 from 3-point range, including 0-for-4 on Friday against Northwestern. Bernard has been dreaming about this moment ever since he decided to transfer from Florida A&M and it became a reality for him. He picked up his play at the end of the year. Mack called his game against Butler at Madison Square Garden his best performance in a Xavier uniform as he finished with a double-double of 12 points (4-7 FG, 3-4 3PT) and 10 rebounds to go with four assists in 38 minutes of action. He's averaging 6.4 points and 3.9 rebounds in 28.1 minutes per game. If the Musketeers play any man-to-man defense, he's going to have a crucial matchup.
Moderate Edge Maryland
JP Macura JR (6-5, 203) vs Kevin Huerter FR (6-7, 190)
Huerter is a skilled guard with great length and deceptive athleticism. The Terps run a lot of actions and set a lot of screens for him to get open looks from three, but he's also a capable ballhandler and a good passer. He has the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team. He can make some plays but he never gets to the free-throw line. He's averaging 9.0 points (42.2% FG, 37.1% 3PT), 5.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 29.2 minutes per game. He had 19 points (8-15 FG, 3-7 3PT), four rebounds, and four assists on Friday against Northwestern. Macura gave fans the full "JP Macura experience" last week in New York. He was brilliant and carried the offense in Friday night's semifinal loss to Creighton, finishing with 22 points (7-16 FG, 6-11 3PT), three rebounds, three assists, and one turnover. However, the night before that he had played well up until the point when he turned the ball over four times in less than two minutes while in a tight game against Butler. The Musketeers definitely need him on his "A" game if they're going to make a tournament run. He was 9-for-16 from deep at The Garden, which could be a good sign. He's averaging 14.5 points (42.3% FG, 34.5% 3PT), 4.4 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in 33.3 minutes per game. He could get a few cheap buckets for the Musketeers if he crashes the offensive glass consistently in this one.
Slight Edge Xavier
Trevon Bluiett JR (6-6, 197) vs Justin Jackson FR (6-7, 225)
Jackson is mostly a spot-up shooter but he has enough fluidity and skill to attack a bad closeout and get to the rim. Most of his points come off of others driving and kicking out to him or finding him in a finisher position, but he's had some huge nights when he's gotten hot from the outside. He's averaging 10.4 points (43.4% FG, 43.1% 3PT) and 6.1 rebounds in 27.6 minutes per game. He had just two points and three rebounds on Friday in the Terps' loss to Northwestern. Bluiett has made a habit of starting games slow recently. He's also had some huge second halves and hit some big-time shots. In last Thursday's semifinals win over Butler at the Big East tournament, he scored 23 points while going 9-for-12 at the free-throw line and he also hit the game-winning shot with seconds left. He's averaging 18.1 points (43.6% FG, 36.6% 3PT) and 5.8 rebounds in 34.9 minutes per game. He's likely going to have a talented but inexperienced and inconsistent freshman guarding him for most of the night. At this point, every game could be his last in a Xavier uniform. This postseason could significantly enhance his legacy as a Musketeer.
Moderate Edge Xavier
RaShid Gaston SR (6-9, 235) vs Damonte Dodd SR (6-11, 250)
Dodd is a big-bodied center with legit size that can move and defend well. On offense, he's strictly out there to screen and rebound, occasionally finishing a dump-off or pick-and-roll. On defense, he's an aggressive shotblocking presence but he's often in foul trouble and out of position to rebound. He's averaging 6.4 points (58.1% FG, 52.9% FT), 4.4 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in 19.4 minutes per game. Like Bernard, this was the biggest reason Gaston chose to transfer to Xavier. He wanted the best opportunity to play in an NCAA tournament. He hasn't played his best of late, however, this could be a matchup that works out well for him. He may have trouble scoring against Dodd in the post, but his physicality on the offensive boards could pay big dividends against a Maryland team that is absolutely atrocious on the glass. He's averaging 7.9 points (59% FG) and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Xavier Bench vs Maryland Bench
Junior guard Jaylen Brantley (5-11, 170) is most effective as a spot-up shooter when he's on the floor. He doesn't make many plays but at least he's also one of the only players on the team with a low turnover rate. He's averaging 5.0 points (38.3% FG, 38.8% 3PT) and 2.0 rebounds in 17.0 minutes per game. Sophomore Ivan Bender (6-9, 230) is a blue-collar backup big man. He found an increased role when starting center Michael Cekovsky went down. He's averaging 4.7 points (66.3% FG) and 3.2 rebounds in 14.2 minutes per game. He has the highest defensive rebounding rate on the team. Senior forward LG Gill (6-8, 230) is a defensive-minded forward. He'll likely spend some time on Bluiett when he's in the game. He's averaging 3.6 points (45.7% FG) and 2.1 rebounds in 12.9 minutes per game. For Xavier, Tyrique Jones and Sean O'Mara could both be important factors in this game. Maryland is thin up front. Jones has the highest offensive rebounding rate on Xavier's team and O'Mara has been playing his best basketball of the year over the last two weeks. Jones is averaging 4.1 points (59.2% FG) and 3.3 rebounds in 10.8 minutes per game. O'Mara is averaging 5.5 points (60% FG) and 2.8 rebounds in 12.9 minutes per game. Kaiser Gates could also make a difference in this one. There are multiple players, specifically Huerter and Jackson, that he could matchup well with on the defensive end. There will also be hustle points available for him if he's willing to crash the boards. He didn't score in either of the Musketeers' last two games in New York. He's averaging 5.6 points (36.6% FG, 32.4% 3PT) and 4.0 rebounds in 20.6 minutes per game.
Maryland is ranked 43rd overall by KenPom. The Terrapins are sitting at 36th in offensive efficiency and 65th in defensive efficiency. Xavier is 39th overall, 34th on offense and 72nd on defense. Maryland relies heavily upon 3-point shooting as 40.9 percent of their field goal attempts come from behind the arc, which is a similar rate to Marquette (41.2%). Both teams get to the free-throw line a lot. Xavier ranks 63rd in the country in free-throw rate and Maryland ranks 77th. Both teams also have a tendency to go through stretches where they get really careless with the ball. The Terps rank 219th in the country in turnover percentage and the Musketeers aren't much better at 186th. Defensively, Maryland will pressure the ball in a halfcourt man-to-man while often denying passes. Rebounding is definitely an area that XU can gain a major advantage. Maryland ranks 293rd in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, grabbing just 67.7 percent of their opponent's misses. Based on last week's conference tournament performances, Xavier seems much more focused and comfortable with its identity than Maryland does currently. However, Trimble is a big-game player with experience that seems to love the spotlight and can take over a game at any point. This matchup feels like a total coin flip. The two most important aspects of this game will be 3-point shooting and points at the free-throw line for both teams. If the Musketeers keep it close in those two categories, they should advance to the round of 32.
Predicted score: Xavier 70 Maryland 68