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Preview: Michigan vs. Maryland

Can Michigan take down #3 Maryland at home with Caris LeVert doubtful to play? We break it down before offering a prediction.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Basics

Who: #3/3 Maryland Terrapins (15-1, 4-0 B1G)

When: Tuesday, January 12th, at 9:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Where: Crisler Center -- Ann Arbor, Mich.

SpreadVegas: +1.5KenPom: W, 71-70 (52% WP)

The Stage

This is Michigan's most important game of the season to date. The Wolverines are 12-4 (2-1 B1G) and have asserted dominance over inferior teams. However, what they haven't done is secure a marquee win to bolster a resume that has them flirting with the bubble, having lost to each of Xavier, UConn, SMU, and Purdue by double digits. The loss to Purdue last week was understandable though. Michigan was on the road without its senior star and challenging a team that provides the worst matchup in the Big Ten. The odds were slim Michigan would win. The odds aren't so slim tonight, though. Maryland is #3 in both human polls, but the Terrapins are only #14 on KenPom and #15 on Sagarin and Michigan will have the benefit of playing in front of a "lit-up" Crisler Center crowd. Thus, tonight's contest is considered a toss-up, with Vegas giving Maryland the slight edge and KenPom giving it to Michigan. However, Vegas may be more accurate because it considers that Caris LeVert is doubtful to play tonight. Nonetheless, this is an excellent chance to get an enormous win that Michigan doesn't want to let slip away.

The Opponent

Maryland is 15-1 and has lived up to its lofty expectations thus far, sitting at #3 in the AP and Coaches polls after being placed there in the preseason. The Terrapins' only loss was to UNC, who's #7 on KenPom, by eight points in Chapel Hill during the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. However, they're not in the top 10 on KenPom because they don't have a signature win and have had some inconsistent performances. Maryland's best win was against #37 UConn on a neutral site, and the Terrapins needed late rallies to put away #224 Rider and #151 Penn State at home. But Maryland has looked good in its last three games, smoking Rutgers at home between big road wins at Northwestern and Wisconsin.

It's fair to say that Maryland is pretty balanced given that UMD is 21st in both adjusted offensive efficiency (114.5) and adjusted defensive efficiency (94.2). What propels the Terrapins on offense is their incredible shooting (4th in eFG%). They are third in two-point shooting (58.6 pct.), 36th in three-point shooting (38.6 pct.), and 14th in free-throw shooting (75.8 pct.). Although, their three-point shooting has tapered off a bit during the conference season as they have made only 31.8 percent of their triples in four Big Ten games. Maryland is good, not great, on the offensive glass (110th in OR%) and at drawing shooting fouls (158th in FTR), but what can sink this offense is its recklessness with the basketball (251st in TO%). That is what killed them in the UNC loss (22 TOs), and this is what Testudo Times co-manager Dave Tucker had to say about the issue in our Q&A:

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.

On the other end of the court, Maryland's size and length (6th in effective height) has helped its shooting defense (56th in eFG%) and ability to grab defensive rebounds (67th in DR%). Opponents have had more success making shots inside the arc (89th in 2P%) than outside of it (39th in 3P%) against Maryland, but the Terrapins will have little problem sending an opponent's shot to the bleachers (30th in blk%). Plus, they protect the rim and contain on defense without fouling much (11th in FTR). The one area where UMD's length hasn't benefited the Terps is in the turnover department (253rd in TO%).

The Personnel

After earning All-Big Ten first-team honors as a freshman last season, 6-foot-3 point guard Melo Trimble is vying for an All-American sophomore campaign. Not only is Trimble Maryland's leading scorer (14.8 PPG) and distributor (5.7 APG), he is one of the most efficient high-usage players in the country. His offensive rating of 125.1 is the 13th-best among players with a usage rate of at least 24 percent. This is because he's shooting 57 percent on twos, 39.7 percent on threes, and 87 percent on free throws, while maintaining a 2.3 A:TO ratio. And, though his free-throw rate has dropped significantly this year, Trimble still has a knack for creating contact when he penetrates into the lane.

Starting alongside Trimble in the backcourt is 6-foot-4 Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon, who has averaged 10.4 PPG and flourished as a catch-and-shoot three-point sniper (49.2 pct.). Sulaimon is a capable shooter inside the arc (48.4 2P%) and passer (21.2 ast%), but he's not nearly as lethal and is turnover-prone (22.4 TO%). The key to containing him is to run him off the three-point line. Otherwise, he'll bomb defenses.

This is where Maryland's size begins to show as 6-foot-9 senior Jake Layman is the team's starting small forward. Layman, who's averaging 10.7 PPG, always has been more of a perimeter player, which is why he's attempted more threes than twos this season. However, though he can't be ignored on the three-point line (36.4 pct.), he's much more effective when he's driving and slashing to the rim (64.0 2P%). Defensively, his length permits him to be a pest. Not only is Layman a solid defensive rebounder (15.6 DR%), he generates more than his fair share of blocks (3.6 blk%) and steals (2.4 stl%) for UMD.

At power forward, Maryland will go with 6-foot-9 Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter, who's posted 12.6 PPG and a team-best 6.9 RPG. Offensively, Carter is one of the Big Ten's best on the block (63.8 2P%), where he doesn't need a teammate to set him up. He also will step back and shoot lengthy jumpers, but those don't go nearly as well for him (29.4 3P%). Defensively, Carter is one of the Big Ten's best rebounders (24.5 DR%) and rim protectors (6.8 blk%). But, as UM Hoops' Dylan Burkhardt noted in his preview, Carter isn't as good when he needs to guard an opponent above the block, grading out as below-average in spot-up and isolation situations according to Synergy Sports.

Maryland's starting center is 6-foot-11 junior Damonte Dodd, who's a low-usage player that scores well around the rim (61.5 2P%) but has a terrible turnover rate (30.8 pct.), but it's 6-foot-11 freshman Diamond Stone that gets the majority of the minutes at the 5. Stone, who's a former blue-chip recruit, is Maryland's second-leading scorer (13.1 PPG) and has turned it up in conference play. In four Big Ten games, he's averaged 18.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, and 1.8 BPG in just 24.5 MPG, while posting an offensive rating of 135.2. While those averages are boosted by the 39-point, 12-rebound game he had against Penn State in the Big Ten opener, Stone simply is demonstrating why he'll be in the NBA soon.

Other than Stone, Maryland doesn't use too many reserves off the bench. The only other one that's averaged more than 10 MPG in Big Ten play is 6-foot-7 sophomore wing Jared Nickens, who's a three-point specialist (84.4 3PA%). Nickens has drilled 36.8 percent of his triples this season, but he's struggled as of late. In four Big Ten games, he's knocked down only 3-of-18 threes (16.7 pct.). Two other backups that may see some time are 5-foot-11 sophomore Jaylen Brantley, who's a point guard that didn't play at Wisconsin, and 7-foot-1 sophomore center Michal Cekovsky, who's an above-average defensive rebounder (17.5 DR%) but hasn't made one bucket from the field since December 12th.

The Keys

Make Your Twos: Last game against Purdue, Wolverines not named Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman made only 4-of-23 twos (17.4 pct.). Though Maryland's interior defense isn't nearly as stingy as the Boilermakers', it's nothing to scoff at either. Big Ten offenses have made only 45.8 percent of their twos against Maryland, and the Terrapins have swatted away 16.3 percent (2nd) of their tries. At this point, Michigan's three-point shooting has been fairly constant, so, if the Wolverines can figure out ways to cut inside for layups and easier two-pointers, their offense should be in great shape to earn a win.

Get Zak Irvin Going: Zak Irvin is coming off a tough night against Purdue, during which he scored only seven points on 2-of-10 shooting and tallied four turnovers. With Caris LeVert doubtful to play tonight, Michigan needs Irvin to thrive in a lead role, and the good news is that he has a matchup that he should exploit. Maryland's starting power forward, Robert Carter, defends well on the block, but he struggles in spot-up and isolation situations. If Michigan runs lots of offense through Irvin on the perimeter, U-M may be able to get the ball to Irvin in spots where Carter won't be able to keep with him.

Force Turnovers: Maryland is an excellent shooting team (4th in eFG%). Melo Trimble is a versatile scorer, Rasheed Sulaimon is a sharpshooter from downtown, Jake Layman can score inside and out, and Robert Carter and Diamond Stone finish well around the rim. Given Michigan's defensive woes, it's hard to imagine that the Wolverines will contest enough shots to affect this. So what Michigan must do is limit the number of shots that Maryland can get off. The Terrapins are 251st in offensive turnover rate and tend to make sloppy passes, which was the reason for their downfall against UNC in their only loss. If U-M can be aggressive and get into passing lanes, it can get enough stops.

The Prediction

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has been phenomenal as Caris LeVert's replacement, averaging 19.5 PPG in his last two starts. However, Abdur-Rahkman doesn't have the same impact that LeVert does as a scorer and creator. And it's not that close. If LeVert plays in this game, his presence would help open up Michigan's offensive flow, and it'd be just enough to tip what should be a competitive game in Michigan's favor. However, because he's doubtful, that gives the Terrapins the edge. Plus, Maryland is 15-1 in games decided by six points or fewer in the last two seasons. They just don't lose close games.

Maryland 75, Michigan 72