Settles: Three keys to Maryland-Michigan State Big Ten tourney semi

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Settles: Three keys to Maryland-Michigan State Big Ten tourney semi

It’s hard to believe that when Maryland and Michigan State faced off for the lone time in the regular season, on January 23 in East Lansing, the Terrapins were building a Final Four resume and the Spartans were riding a three-game losing streak, including two home losses. At the time, Michigan State was desperate for a win, let alone a signature win against an elite team.

[ MORE: View our Big Ten tournament central page ]

Oh, how times have changed. Michigan State is everyone’s favorite to return to the Final Four, and Maryland arrived in Indy having lost four of its last six games. The Terrapins’ first-half explosion against Nebraska in the Big Ten tourney quarterfinals Friday night could not have come at a better time, and it shows exactly how impressive they can be when they are firing on all cylinders.

Here are three things to watch in the Maryland-Michigan State Big Ten tourney semifinal.

1. Ball screen defense vs. Melo Trimble and Denzel Valentine. No one executes ball screens better than Melo Trimble and Denzel Valentine. They are both lethal at quickly reading their defenders and putting defenses in jeopardy. How can the defenses stop them? They can’t. But there are a few things that both teams must do to slow them down. The first is to force Valentine and Trimble into the screen. If they are allowed to freely take the ball away from the screen, it’s trouble. Secondly, when the big men hedge, they can’t leave the ball until the defensive guard is able to get back to Trimble or Valentine. If the big switches and leaves too soon, both guards will drill the 3-pointer. We know Valentine will flirt with a triple-double, and the good news for Maryland is that Trimble has averaged 18 points over his last three games, nearly doubling his 9.8 points per game from the previous four games.

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2. Second-chance points. In their only meeting this year, Matt Costello’s gutsy offensive rebound with the game on the line sealed the must-win for Michigan State. Maryland had inside position, but Costello wanted it more. That can’t happen today if Maryland wants to win. Maryland has the most talented frontline in the Big Ten, and yet it is Michigan State, once again, leading the nation in rebounding. If Maryland can compete on the glass, it has a chance at victory. In the first meeting, Michigan State snatched 17 offensive rebounds. This game won’t be close if that happens again.

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3. 3-point shooting. Michigan State has three of the top seven players in the Big Ten in 3-point accuracy: Eron Harris, Bryn Forbes and Valentine. All three love to fill it up from downtown, and for good reason. Forbes, the best 3-point shooter in America, hit four treys on his way to 25 points in the first matchup. Maryland absolutely has to run him off of the 3-point line Sunday afternoon. Maryland shot 59.1 percent from beyond the arc in its victory over Nebraska, including 9-of-10 in the first half. Jake Layman hit his first four three’s. Whichever team makes the most 3s, has a major advantage.

Jess Settles, BTN men's basketball analyst

About Jess Settles: Jess, a former star at Iowa, is BTN men's basketball analyst appearing in the studio and at live games. He's a frequent contibutor to BTN.com during the men's basketball season. Follow him on Twitter @BTNJessSettles.

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