No. 7 Tennessee is set to take part in the Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational in Brooklyn, New York on Sunday evening. The Volunteers, winners of the Battle 4 Atlantis a couple of weeks ago, will face No. 13 Maryland.
The Terrapins are coming off of their first loss of the season this week, dropping a road game to Wisconsin. However, it’s been a hot start for Kevin Willard at Maryland, finally breathing some life back into that program pretty quickly. His team has already beaten Illinois and Miami this season, two good looking wins that should pay dividends in a few months.
Maryland’s 13th place ranking in this week’s AP Poll is their highest mark since the 2019-20 season.
“I think Coach Willard has done a great job,” Rick Barnes said this week.” It’s his first year there and he’s quickly established — if you watch them play they’re not going to beat themselves. If they make a basket they’re going to jump in their 2-2-1 or back to a 2-3, mixes man in. He’s got them believing.”
Willard currently has four guys averaging 12+ points per game. Jahmir Young, a senior who transferred in from Charlotte, is averaging over 15 points to this point, adding three assists. Donta Scott, another senior, is averaging 14.7 points in the post. Julian Reese joins him in the post, putting up 12 and seven per game. Hakim Hart, a big 6-8 guard, is averaging nearly 13 points per game while shooting 48 percent from three-point range.
In total, Maryland’s 78 points per game is good for 88th in the country. Per KenPom, Maryland ranks 18th in adjusted offensive efficiency.
“They can shoot the ball,” Barnes said. “As I watch them now I would say they’re one of the biggest surprises in college basketball. They got off to a terrific start, lost a tough one Sunday in their first road game (at Wisconsin). They’re right there. They do a lot of things that we’re going to have to be ready to defend.”
The stout offense of the Terrapins will run into the nation’s top ranked defense on Sunday, per Kenpom. Tennessee has built an identity on the defensive end, and that has been no different this year. This might be Barnes’ best group defensively, and they’ve been able to rattle off seven straight wins because of it.
That defense will be put to the test over the next six days. No. 10 Arizona awaits after this one.
“We’ve been in some big games already, but it’s about getting better right now,” Barnes said. “It’s tough. We’re getting ready to go play a really good Maryland team and obviously from there we’ll go to Arizona.
“We play all those games to get us ready for what we know is going to be a brutal January-February once we get into conference play. You hope that through everything that we’ve done from start to finish is going to prepare us for SEC play.”
Tennessee is a 4.5 point favorite against Maryland on Sunday, per DraftKings Sportsbook. Tip-off is set for 4:30 p.m. ET on FS1.