I, The Big Ten Conference, challenge thee to an honor du-all.
Swagger. The Big Ten doesn't have it. In fact, since its inception in 1999, only one Big Ten team has a winning record in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Michigan State at 5-3. The Big Ten has never "won" the aggregate challenge, going 0-9 over the past, um, forever.
This year's schedule looks like this:
December 1 (that's like, tonight)
Wisconsin at Virginia Tech
Duke at Purdue
Clemson at Illinois
Ohio State at Miami (Florida)
Virginia at Minnesota
Iowa at Boston College
Indiana at Wake Forest
Michigan at Maryland
Florida State at Northwestern
Penn State at Georgia Tech.
FWIW, North Carolina State was the worst team in the 12-team ACC last year; they don't get an invite.
Michigan, obviously, plays Maryland on the 3rd. For its part, Michigan hasn't done too poorly in the challenge, posting a 3-4 record to date (ed - discrepencies in number of games vs. number of years is due to various tinkering with the number of teams in each conference). 3-4 may not be considered "good" but it is the 2nd highest winning percentage of any Big Ten team behind the aforementioned Michigan State. The ACC dominance has been terrifyingly thorough.
Maryland finds themselves in the early malaise that many teams encounter at this time of the year. They've played 6 games, 3 against what I would consider quality opponents. The results:
|U. Virginia Madison||W -OT||89-74|
That's 3 tournament quality teams against which they've gone 1-2 with blowout losses to the two "more better" of the three. I'm not saying that Maryland is bad; Michigan would likely have the same record against this schedule. Looking at this table, however, it is clear that Maryland is not an unbeatable ACC team for this Michigan squad. So far this year, the Terps have won when they were supposed to and, largely, lost when they were supposed to. Michigan has one nice win againts UCLA, but we've played one fewer quality opponent. The result is probably a push.
Offense against Maryland
Somewhat troubling for this Wolverine squad is the reliance on Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims for offensive production. Harris is averaging 22.3 PPG, with Sims chipping in 15.2. Nearly everyone else is hovering just under 5 PPG. Balance ain't exactly our game here, folks. Case in point:
Against UCLA (Michigan's best game in...decades?)
Sims: 18 points
Harris: 15 points
Douglass: 10 points
5 others chipped in with at least 2
Against Savannah St. (Michigan's worst game this season?)
Sims: 23 points
Harris: 22 points
5 others chipped in with at least 2
Against UCLA, Harris and Sims were largely contained, but Michigan presented a more balanced attack with 8 different people contributing offensively. Against Savannah State, Harris and Sims scored at or above their season average, but the rest of the team struggled even with an overtime period. Michigan is a better team when they are getting "role players" involved, even at the expense of our "star's" production.
Maryland will likely use some combination of man and zone defenses like they did against Georgetown (to no avail). Maryland would ideally stay in straight man, but will pull out a zone, or an alternating man-zone-man scheme as events warrant. I look for Harris to penetrate/kick against the man, run backdoors off picks, and for Belien to try to shoot over the zone.
A lot has been made of the 1-3-1 zone/trap that Belien runs. Against UCLA, it worked so well that I actually wondered out loud why every NCAA team wasn't using this defense. It turns out that it does have its flaws.
Against UCLA, Michigan was able to trap the penetrating guard at the elbow, often times forcing a turnover. I doubt that Maryland's Greivis Vasquez will be caught so unaware. He will try to "drive the gaps" between the "1" and the "3" of the zone. In so doing, he will create a mismatch as the zone must collapse around him, leaving outside shooters or underneith men uncovered. This only works if you've got a guard with the penetrating ability to drive and the wherewithall to kick it to the open man. It's a tough task, and I expect that Vasquez will only be marginally successful at it.
Maryland will, more likely, place players in the established gaps in the zone from the start, looking like this:
When the ball goes to the highpost, the other post drops down providing ball carrier to
b) pass to the dropping post
c) pass to the corner for a 3
With Maryland running primarily 3 guard sets, I expect them to run this offense to try to get quick shots off the corners, maybe a few dishes to their athletic forwards in the paint.
What Michigan lacks in balance, Maryland more than makes up for, with 6 players averaging over 6 points per game. Michigan will not be able to key in on just a few players to shut down this offense.
This is a game that Michigan should be able to win. Statistically, they match up very well against the 'Terps, and the defense has shown that they can be very, very frustrating when they get the chance to play that zone. Maryland's backcourt has shown signs on competance, especially against Michigan State, but has also shown that it can stagnate against good defenses. If Michigan can present a balanced attack and play the kind of defense they were able to against UCLA's athletic guards, they should win this one handily. However, if Maryland starts getting good dribble penetration and/or starts shooting the lights out from behind the arc, Michigan will be in trouble.
a) Contain penetration
b) Offensive Balance
c) Win turnover margin
a) Break the zone - force Michigan to man-up.
b) No long scoring droughts
d) Contain Harris