|Who: Maryland (13-2) at Michigan (11-4)
|Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
|When: 3:15 p.m., Saturday, January 7th, 2017
Last year Michigan picked up one of its best wins of the season as it knocked off the Maryland Terrapins at home in early January. Maryland was ranked third in the country as the Wolverines rode Zak Irvin and Duncan Robinson to a critical upset win.
This year, Maryland and Michigan are two teams that seem to be searching to rediscover their identities. The Terps are are 13-2, but their non-conference schedule was littered with a handful of narrow wins over average competition, a home loss to Pittsburgh and one impressive neutral court win over Kansas State. Like Michigan, they’ve started Big Ten play with a 1-1 record. Maryland steamrolled Illinois at home, then allowed Nebraska to march into College Park and leave with a 2 point victory.
Melo Trimble is still around, but he starts next to three freshmen and a sophomore — a far cry from last year’s starting lineup which featured two seniors, a redshirt junior and a freshman All-American.
Mark Turgeon won 26 Big Ten games in his first two years in the conference, but he hasn’t done it with offense. Maryland ranked 10th in the league in offensive efficiency in 2015 and 7th last season. Its defensive efficiency ranked first or second in the league in both seasons.
This year’s Maryland squad appears to follow a similar recipe. The Terps are ranked 91st in adjusted offensive efficiency and 51st in adjusted defensive efficiency. Through two Big Ten games, they’ve managed to score 1.05 PPP (8th) but only allowed .89 (1st).
Maryland’s defense does a good job of defending threes — 31.7% 3PA/FGA and 31.2 3P% allowed — and twos — 44.5 2P% allowed — for a defensive eFG% of 45.2%. While it is partially competition induced, the Terps have the best eFG% defense in Big Ten games (42.2) and held Illinois and Nebraska to just 23.5% 3-point shooting. Michigan has had three sub-par perimeter shooting games in a row and things shouldn’t get much easier against the Terps.
Maryland hasn’t been great on the defensive glass — a weakness that Michigan failed to exploit against Penn State — and is just average at keeping its opponents off of the foul line. The Terps last four opponents have also given the ball away once every five possessions, but again that might be a product of playing teams like Nebraska, Illinois, Charlotte and Jacksonville State.
Offensively, the numbers aren’t nearly as impressive. Maryland is just an average shooting team — 50.4% on twos (122nd), 35.4% on threes (149th) for a 51.5 eFG% (119th) — but it shoots the three-ball quite a bit (42.4% of FGA). Turnovers have been a major concern, with giveaways on 20.4% of possessions (264th), while getting to the free throw line has been an equalizer.
The Terps have attempted 44.2 free throws per 100 field goal attempts, 22nd best in the country. That well has dried up a bit in league play as they’ve only managed a 27.4 free throw rate while shooting 56% at the line through two conference games.
You know Melo Trimble by now. The junior point guard is a great pick-and-roll point guard who has had the knack for making plays in the clutch. His numbers regressed a bit last season while surrounded by so much talent and his junior numbers are closer to his sophomore year than his ridiculous freshman year. The primary culprit has been his three-point shooting (35% this year compared to 41% as a freshman) and turnovers (21.7% turnover rate compared to 18.3% as a freshman).
6-foot freshman Anthony Cowan joins Trimble in the backcourt this year and he leads the country in free throw rate. The 170 pound guard has attempted 82 free throws to just 87 field goal attempts, a free throw rate of 94.2%. Cowan has been turnover prone, but his assist numbers are good and he’s shooting 52% on twos and 33% on threes.
6-foot-7, 225 pound freshman forward Justin Jackson is a load as a combo. He starts at the four and can draw fouls (44% FTA/FGA), shoot threes (43%), attack the offensive glass, block shots and slash to the hoop.
Former Michigan target Kevin Huerter is the shooter to track. Two-thirds of his shot attempts are threes and he’s made 37.5% of his long range efforts. Those numbers are boosted by a 7-of-11 3-point shooting performance in his last game against Nebraska which boosted his season 3-point numbers by 5%.
Maryland’s big man rotation has been damaged by injury. 7-foot-1 Slovakian Michal Cekovsky started 4 games when healthy, but has missed the last two with a sore ankle. 6-foot-11 rebounding force Damonte Dodd missed five games with injury leading into the new year, but returned to play 13 minutes off the bench on Jan. 1.
6-foot-9 sophomore Ivan Bender has played additional minutes in their absence. He’s a solid finisher (67%) and rebounder, but he’s struggled with turnovers and isn’t a shot blocking threat. Of the trio, Cekovsky is the guy that will get the ball with his back to the basket on the block while Dodd appears to be the best defender and rebounder.
6-foot-8 graduate transfer LG Gill has also seen recent playing time at the five spot. The former Duquesne player is just 10-of-33 inside the arc this season and has played limited minutes
- Ball screen defense: Similar to Michigan, you know you are going to see a lot of high pick-and-roll when facing the Terps. Just over a quarter of Maryland’s offensive possessions end in shots out of ball screen action and the Terps grade out slightly more efficient in ball screen offense and defense than the Wolverines.
- Three-point splits: Michigan’s first two Big Ten opponents have combined to shoot 50% from three-point range while it has made just 32.1% of its threes. It’s hard to win games like that. Both teams shoot a lot of threes and the Wolverines will have a hard time winning if they can’t flip that stat.
- Wilson vs. Jackson: Justin Jackson’s frame and profile remind me a bit of Lamar Stevens, Penn State’s 6-foot-7 freshman who gave the Wolverines fits. Michigan will need to do a better job against Jackson, rather than hoping he ends up on the bench with foul trouble. Conversely, the Wolverines need DJ Wilson on the floor defensively and will need him to stay out of foul trouble against a Maryland team that’s very adept at drawing fouls.
Before the conference season started, I wrote that these first five games were critical for Michigan to build some positive momentum because the schedule becomes so difficult in February. That hasn’t changed and this would be a great chance to build off of the Wednesday comeback against Penn State.
KenPom projects a 68-61 Wolverine win, giving Maryland a 27% shot at the road upset.