Maryland, Iowa Meet in NIT Semifinals

Dez Wells and Iowa's Roy Devyn Marble will go toe-to-toe in this NIT matchup.
Dez Wells and Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble will go toe-to-toe in this NIT matchup.

#2 Maryland vs. #3 Iowa
9:00 PM ET*, ESPN2

*The first semifinal, Brigham Young-Baylor, is scheduled for 7:00 PM. So the odds of Maryland and Iowa actually starting at 9:00 PM rather than 9:30 or 9:45 are the same odds as Gary Williams running the point for the Terrapins tonight.

After Maryland sealed a 58-57 road win against the Alabama Crimson Tide last Tuesday, we were one game away from an ACC showdown in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals. All Virginia had to do was extend its home winning streak to 20 games against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Instead, this semifinal will serve as a preview of future Big Ten conference tilts. Iowa rolled to 75-64 win, giving the Hawkeyes a ticket to Madison Square Garden to face the Terrapins. The Cavaliers’ only other loss at John Paul Jones Arena came on November 13. In that game, Virginia lost to Delaware 59-53 in the NIT Season Tip-Off quarterfinals, giving the Blue Hens a ticket to Madison Square Garden.

Iowa’s offense, which led the way against Virginia, has caught fire in the NIT. The Hawkeyes made 49 percent of its field goal attempts against the Cavaliers, as well as 47 percent against Stony Brook in the round prior. Junior swingman Roy Devyn Marble is averaging 25.3 points per game in the NIT, leading the way for Iowa.

Of course, the Terrapins’ offense has also been pretty efficient during their postseason run. Maryland has shot 49.7 percent in the NIT, and would be over the 50 percent mark if not for a 3-for-12 performance beyond the arc in the second round against Denver.

The matchup between Marble and Maryland’s Dez Wells should be fascinating. Both players have taken their game to another level in the postseason, which is why those teams are still in the NIT. Marble is scoring more points in the NIT, but Wells is taking fewer shots than he did while putting up Marble’s numbers in the ACC Tournament. The biggest difference between the two? Marble is averaging 3.0 steals per game in the NIT, while Wells is averaging 2.7 turnovers per game. If Marble can fluster Wells when Maryland has the ball, it could cause problems for the Terrapins.

After struggling in the first two rounds of the tournament, Alex Len recorded a double-double against Alabama, scoring 15 points and collecting 13 rebounds. Len also blocked five shots, including a rejection of Rodney Cooper with 3.1 seconds remaining to preserve the win. Tonight, Len will be paired against freshman Adam Woodbury, who also stands at 7’1”. Woodbury hasn’t proven to be the scoring or rebounding threat that Len can be at times, but he is part of a Hawkeye defense that is 28th in the nation in blocks per game and 15th in field-goal percentage defense. If Len hopes to repeat his performance from last week, he will have to do so against a stiff defensive test from Woodbury and company.

Speaking of freshmen, Maryland’s Jake Layman had one of his best games of the season against the Crimson Tide. Layman scored 13 points and recorded two assists, three steals, and two blocks. Typically, Layman’s efforts have been restrained to shooting this season, but his all-around game was crucial in the Terrapins’ win. If he can build on that outing, it will give Iowa another player to think about on the floor, especially in the absence of Seth Allen due to a broken hand.

This is the first trip to the NIT semifinals for an ACC team since 2010. That year, North Carolina defeated Rhode Island 68-67 in overtime before losing to a Brian Gregory-coached Dayton team 79-68 in the championship game. The last conference team to win the NIT was Wake Forest. The 2000 Demon Deacons defeated NC State and Notre Dame in Madison Square Garden to claim the tournament championship.

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