In the Big Ten opener for both teams, the fourth ranked Maryland Terrapins may face more of a battle than many expect when they host the Penn State Nittany Lions on Wednesday.
The double-digit underdog seems capable of hanging within single-digits of a national powerhouse in the Big Ten opener for both teams on Wednesday when the pesky Penn State Nittany Lions (9-4, 6-5 ATS) pay a visit to those fourth ranked Maryland Terrapins (11-1, 5-7 ATS) at the Xfinity Center in College Park, MD at 5:00 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN2.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Penn State as a very big underdog for this contest with the current line at +15 with odds of -102.
One of Best Teams in Country
Maryland was one of the favorites to win the national championship before this season with Future odds as low as 9/1, and the Terrapins are showing why with their 11-1 start with the only loss coming by eight points on the road visiting another title contender in North Carolina. Apparently the Terps benefitted form that loss though as they have since won five straight games by an average winning margin of +22.6 points!
That streak was all vs. non-conference competition however, and it is now a whole new ball game going forward with the game marking the advent of Big Ten play. And while Penn State is not considered a threat to win the conference, the Nittany Lions have not exactly been pushovers lately since a rather slow 2-2 start as they have been the winning NCAA Basketball picks in seven of their last nine games most recently beating Kent State in Las Vegas last Wednesday.
Turnover Differential Huge Though
It is easy to see why experts are so high on Maryland this season with their great mix of returning starters and talented transfers, and as a result the Terps are averaging 80.2 points per game while ranking third in the nation in field goal percentage at 53.4 percent, 17th in three-point shooting at 41.1 percent and 14th in offensive efficiency, all while simultaneously allowing only 64.2 points per contest and ranking 39th in defensive efficiency.
So there is probably very little the upstarts from Penn State can do to stay in this game, right? Well, that would be incorrect! You see, as great as Maryland looks on paper this season, it does have one big Achilles Heel and that would be ball protection. The Terrapins are a disturbing 268th in the country in offensive turnover percentage at 20.3 percent vs. a national average of 18.7 percent, and they turned the ball over a season-high 19 times vs. Marshall Sunday.
Yes, Maryland got away with that vs. non-conference foes such as in that 87-67 win over Marshall, but that sloppiness could cost the Terrapins a game or two inside the Big Ten and it will make them unreliable bets as big favorites like this unless they clean things up.
Lost to Good Competition
On the other hand, while Penn State is at a talent disadvantage here, the Nittany Lions do not usually beat themselves as they are a very good 57th in offensive turnover percentage at only 16.4 percent, and when you also factor in that the Maryland defense is not really applying much pressure ranking 210th in defensive turnover percentage, the Nittany Lions should be able to shorten this game with long possessions even with the new 30-second shot clock.
Also, the two Penn State losses in the last nine games have both come to teams receiving votes in the latest AP Top 25 poll, first to George Washington in a true road game and then to Colorado by just one point 71-70 in the opening round of the Las Vegas Classic last week before the 75-69 win over Kent State in the third-place game. On top of that, having a full week to prepare for this conference opener vs. the Terrapins certainly cannot hurt.
Finally, while there is no denying the talent of Maryland, that has not been lost on the oddsmakers, who could be overvaluing the Terrapins a bit right now as evidenced by them being under .500 ATS this season at 5-7 as well as 2-6 ATS in their last eight home games and 3-8 ATS in their last 11 games following a straight up win. Conversely, Penn State is 11-3 ATS in its last 14 road games vs. teams with a home winning percentage of greater than .600.
Look for those patterns to continue today with Maryland probably winning the game on the court but Penn State doing more than enough to stay inside the 15-point spread in College Park on Wednesday.
NCAA Basketball Pick: Penn State +15 (-102)