JACKSONVILLE (AP) – This matchup is all about the big men. There is no shortage of them, either.
Sixth-seeded Maryland (23-10) has Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith in the paint. Third-seeded LSU (27-6) counters with Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams.
That’s a combined 27½ feet and 955 pounds of post presence that will be the center of attention in the second round of the East Region.
“It’s going to be who wins the paint and who wins the rebounding battle,” LSU interim coach Tony Benford said. “I think it’s going to be that simple. They’re really strong in the paint and we’re pretty strong in the paint, and we’re good on the glass and they’re good on the glass.”
Benford quickly added that point guard play will be equally important, with LSU’s Tremont Waters and Maryland’s Anthony Cowan playing pivotal roles as distributors.
But all eyes will be on the big guys – and for good reason.
All four notched a double-double in the opening round.
Smith, a 6-foot-10, 215-pound freshman who wears glasses and goes by the nickname “Stix,” had 19 points and 12 rebounds against Belmont. Fernando, a 6-10, 240-pound sophomore, added 14 points and 13 boards. Together, they helped the Terrapins dominate the paint.
LSU, the Southeastern Conference’s regular-season champion, did the same against Yale.
Reid, a 6-10, 250-pound freshman, finished with 14 points – including two on a thunderous dunk in the first half- and 10 rebounds.
Kavell Bigby-Williams, a 6-11, 250-pound senior, had 10 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots.
“It’s going to be a pretty good matchup,” Bigby-Williams said. “Know they’re physical, big, long, athletic, so it’s going to be a good matchup. But I feel like me and Naz, we’re going to be prepared for them.”
The LSU duo has experience with opposing bigs, having dealt with Kentucky star PJ Williams as well as Tennessee’s Grant Williams and others.
For Maryland, this will be a new challenge.
“I don’t think maybe we’ve faced a team with that kind of interior presence this year,” Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon said. “It’s going to be fun being able to see how well our big men match up against theirs, and the best shall prevail at the end.”