Just days after a big win over Wisconsin, Northwestern is back in Evanston to kick off the first of a two-game homestand. The opponent is the Maryland Terrapins, a team the Wildcats have had some close, entertaining battles over the past couple of years. We talk with Ryan Connors of Testudo Times. Make sure to check out our Q&A with them over there as well!
Inside NU: Melo Trimble's still in College Park, but now he spends more of his time off ball with freshman Anthony Cowan at point guard. How has Melo adapted to the new position, and what makes Cowan the right guy to have the ball in his hands?
Ryan Connors: Trimble's adapted pretty well to playing shooting guard. It more naturally suits his skill set, and he played off ball for the most part in high school. He can still handle the ball whenever he needs, and can score at will. He hasn't been productive in the past two games, but if Trimble can bring his three-point shooting percentage back to where it was freshman year, the junior will be scary to defend. Cowan is incredibly quick, and is a more natural ball-handler than Trimble.
INU: Cowan isn't the only freshman impressing, though. Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson are also key parts of this team. What should we look for out of them?
RC: Three-point shooting. Jackson can score inside and out, and is already projected as a late first-rounder after next season. Huerter's three-point shooting percentage is only 38, but his reputation and stroke suggest that will only go up. Maryland's offense is deadly when both are on from deep.
INU: Damonte Dodd, Michal Cekovsky and Ivan Bender all get time as the big man on this team. What do each of the three bring to the table and when are they usually deployed?
RC: Dodd and Cekovsky each provide a similar brand of toughness and blocks, and Cekovsky has put together a solid offensive game in the few games he's played. Ceko is finally getting healthy, and though Dodd is comfortably installed as the starting center, both will get lots of minutes. Bender is the smallest of the group at 6'9, but Mark Turgeon's liked what he's seen from him. Bender doesn't have much speed or athleticism, but he's evidently played smart.
INU: Who's the X factor for this team? If he struggles, so too will Maryland but if he plays well Maryland is tough to beat.
RC: There's a lot of players who might fit this description, but I'll go with Justin Jackson. He's been held to single digits during two of the last three games, but when he's on fire, Maryland is incredibly tough to beat. Maryland's success doesn't exactly live or die with one player.
INU: Mark Turgeon has drawn a lot of praise this year. What has made him so good, and how would you vouch for him for Big Ten Coach of the Year?
RC: First off, he's been an amazing recruiter. The most important thing a coach can do, by far, can do is stock your team with good players. Getting Huerter, Jackson and Cowan on this team has turned Maryland into a Big Ten contender in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Turgeon's been good off timeouts especially, and has managed minutes well so his team is primed for the stretch run.
INU: Prediction time. Who leaves Welsh-Ryan Arena with a win and why?
RC: I'll have to go with Northwestern, though I think it'll be close. The Wildcats have been excellent so far this season, and their win over Wisconsin makes me think Maryland will just be slightly overmatched.