Tomorrow, Michigan will play its most important game of the season to date. Still seeking a marquee win, the Wolverines are in the middle of a three-game stretch against KenPom top-15 teams. They ran out of steam without Caris LeVert against #13 Purdue in West Lafayette, and their chances of upsetting #12 Iowa on the road on Sunday aren't promising. But KenPom projects Michigan's home tilt with #14 Maryland is a coin flip -- though that doesn't consider that LeVert may not play -- and these are the games Michigan must win if it wants to avoid flirting with the bubble.
To gather more insight about this crucial matchup, I reached out to Dave Tucker, who is a co-manager of Testudo Times -- SB Nation's Maryland site. Dave was kind enough to answer my questions and discuss to what's surprised him the most about the Terrapins this season, how Melo Trimble has improved from his All-Big Ten freshman campaign, why Maryland is loose with the basketball, and who will win Tuesday night's game.
Maryland opened the season as the #3 team in both human polls and, with a 15-1 (4-0 B1G) record, finds itself in the exact same spots 10 weeks later. Has this team been everything you expected it to be? What has surprised you the most about Maryland?
Overall, I think Maryland has pretty much met expectations so far this year. They've had a few close calls, but they've always found a way to win. There are a lot of new pieces and I think as the season has progressed, they're learning to play better as a team.
Honestly, there have been a lot of surprises this season. I think Robert Carter is better than I could have ever imagined, Rasheed Sulaimon has been so important and done so much for this team and Melo Trimble is continuing to amaze in his sophomore campaign.
Melo Trimble was on the All-Big Ten first team as a freshman and is following that up with an excellent sophomore campaign (14.8 PPG, 5.7 APG, 125.1 ORtg). Where has the point guard most improved? Where does he still have weaknesses in his game?
Trimble's biggest improvement has probably been in his assist rate and effective field goal percentage. Last year, he ranked 393rd nationally in ARate whereas this year, he's jumped up to 46th. In eFG%, he's jumped from 330th last year to 160 this year.
In terms of weaknesses in his game, they're hard to come by, which is one of the reasons he's so effective. He has a tendency to sometimes take a three that might not be ideal or is super deep, but when he's doing things like this, you don't really worry about it.
The Terrapins added three new pieces this season: Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter, Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon, and five-star center Diamond Stone. What has each player brought to this team? Who's most important to Maryland's success?
Each of these players have been vital to Maryland this season. Robert Carter has been fantastic at the four, showing off an ability to score for a variety of places around the basket and even stepping back and hitting an occasional three. Sulaimon has been fantastic for a lot of reasons. Not just in his scoring and ability to run point when needed, but in his vocal leadership with this team. He's kind of assumed the Dez Wells role in that regard. He's also shooting over 48% from beyond the arc this year. Diamond Stone has really been coming on as of late. After a little bit of an adjustment period, he's scored in double figures in nine straight games, including a Maryland freshman record 39 points against Penn State on December 30th. He's really starting to run the floor better and has been even more active on defense. He's also been a great rebounder, especially on the offensive glass, where he ranks 9th nationally in OR%.
One of the most noticeable changes between last season and this season is Maryland's shooting -- two-point shooting to be particular. In 2014-15, the Terrapins were 157th in 2P% (48.0). In 2015-16, they are third (58.6). What's been the catalyst for this change?
The single biggest change has probably been Maryland's somewhat transformed front court this season. Last year, that was arguably one of, if not Maryland's biggest weakness. But adding Robert Carter and Diamond Stone has transformed that unit and given them a lot of easy buckets. Having Stone and Carter on the floor has also opened up opportunities for Trimble, Sulaimon and others, especially in terms of getting to the basket for easy shot opportunities.
Maryland's Achilles heel appears to be its carelessness with the ball. The Terrapins are 249th in turnover rate (19.7 pct.), and they turned it over 22 times against UNC in their only loss of the season. Why does Maryland cough it up so much? What should Michigan do to try to pressure the Terrapins into making these same mistakes?
I think Maryland was a big lackadaisical in their passing early and it really hurt them against UNC, who used their size to force 13 steals against the Terps. Over their first 10 games, Maryland was averaging 14.1 turnovers per game. During their last six games, they've knocked that down to 11.83 per game. They need to continue that trend in the coming weeks.
I think the best way to force Maryland into turnovers is utilize some full court press and by not giving Maryland easy opportunities inside. If the Terps can go inside out effectively, it's hard to stop them.
Prediction time. Though the status of Caris LeVert is unknown, KenPom views this as a toss-up. What matchup do you think will have the biggest impact on the outcome of the game? Which team will walk off the court as the winner? What will be the score?
I think Maryland pulls out the win, but it's going to be another close game for the Terps. I hope Caris LeVert plays, because I'd love to see him matching up against Melo Trimble. This game will probably be close late and if it is, Melo Trimble takes over again and wins it for the Terps. I'll say Maryland wins 73-71.
A big thanks to Dave for answering our questions! Make sure to follow him on Twitter.