Who: #6 Maryland Terrapins (22-5, 10-4 Big Ten)
When: Sunday, February 21st, at 1:00 p.m. ET (CBS)
Where: Xfinity Center -- College Park, Mary.
Spread: Vegas: TBA | KenPom: L, 66-74 (22% WP)
Michigan still is on the bubble. If the season ended today, CBS Sports and Crashing the Dance would hand an at-large bid to Michigan, but neither would give U-M a bye. Both have U-M in the First Four as the fourth-to-last team in. ESPN believes Michigan has some more cushion, slotting U-M as the eighth-to-last team in. The Wolverines still need two more regular-season wins to feel safe entering the Big Ten Tournament. Their best chance to get a win will be when they host Northwestern next Wednesday, but, other than that, it's slim pickings with road games at Maryland and Wisconsin and a home finale against Iowa. Michigan may end up kicking itself for its putrid performance in Columbus earlier this week, though not as much as the ESPN executives that thought that showing fans the officials' behinds for two hours straight was an innovative idea.
Sunday's game at Maryland is not a must-win. KenPom projects that this will be Michigan's worst chance to pick up a win in its remaining four regular-season games, and Michigan will have two have other opportunities to pull off upsets to acquire that much-needed second win. However, there can be much to gain from a win this weekend. Michigan could sweep Maryland, become just the second team to hand the Terrapins a home Big Ten loss, earn its fourth RPI top-25 win, and get that win in conjunction with a win over Northwestern that would punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament in March.
There won't be much pressure on Michigan in this game. It'll be on Maryland because ...
THE TERRAPINS LOST TO A MINNESOTA TEAM THAT WAS 0-13 ON THURSDAY.
Yes, Maryland was without center Diamond Stone, who served a one-game suspension for slamming Vitto Brown's head to the ground in the prior game, but that ranks up there in the pantheon of Big Ten upsets with Michigan's loss to an 0-14 Penn State in 2013. And this came right after Maryland lost to Wisconsin and dropped its first home game of the season. As a result, Maryland is riding a two-game losing streak and has fallen from #6 to #18 on KenPom in less than a week. The Terrapins still are a great team, and they probably will want to unleash all of their anger and frustration on Michigan on their home floor. But they also are vulnerable and could start reeling if things go sideways.
Maryland is vulnerable because its offense has been stumbling. The Terrapins have failed to exceed 1.10 PPP in each of their past eight Big Ten games, which has caused them to slide down to 46th in adjusted offensive efficiency (111.0). In fact, they mustered only 120 points in 134 possessions (0.896 PPP) in their last two losses. Usually, their shooting (15th in eFG%) keeps their offense afloat as they have made 56.2 percent of their twos (8th). However, they converted only 39.7 percent of them against Wisconsin and Minnesota, and their three-point shooting has been fading (31.6 pct. in B1G play). Add in that Maryland is ranked 164th in free-throw rate, 179th in offensive rebounding rate, and 248th in turnover rate, and it's not hard to see why its offense has been faltering lately.
However, the reason why Maryland still has a gorgeous 22-5 (10-4 Big Ten) record is because its defense has been astounding. The unit is 14th overall in adjusted efficiency (93.1) and has allowed the fewest points per possession in Big Ten play (0.963). This is thanks to a shooting defense that is 22nd overall and first in Big Ten play in eFG%. They have allowed opponents to make only 44.5 percent of their twos (40th) and 30.7 percent of their threes (20th), and they have blocked 14.8 percent of opponents' shots (9th). They also have done an excellent job of contesting and blocking shots without fouling (15th in FTR). However, despite being one of the tallest teams in the nation, they are just above-average at hauling in misses (105th in DR%) and don't force turnovers (294th in TO%).
It had been presumed that 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard Melo Trimble would be a lock for the All-Big Ten first team, but that is no longer the case. Though he averages 14.0 PPG and 5.3 APG for one of the Big Ten's best teams, he has been pedestrian lately with a 102.5 offensive rating in conference play because he's in a giant shooting slump. Trimble has knocked down only 45.1 percent of his twos and 28.4 percent of his threes against Big Ten teams, and, in his last three conference games, he's made only 6-of-37 field goals (17.6 eFG%). Oof. His offensive rating has been propped up only because he still can get to the free-throw line (45.5 FTR, 86.0 FT%) and knows how to dish the rock (32.1 ast%).
Joining Trimble in the backcourt is 6-foot-4 senior Rasheed Sulaimon, who has not been hesitant to put up shots in his past four games -- to good effect, too. During this stretch, he's averaged 20.5 PPG with a 59.6 eFG% and has made more of an effort to get closer looks inside the three-point line. However, he's still at his best when he's launching bombs from long range (47.6 3P%). Defenses can't allow him to get open behind the arc.
When Michigan fans last saw 6-foot-9 senior forward Jake Layman, he was torching the Wolverines, recording 18 points on 11 shot equivalents and 10 rebounds. Since then, though, Layman has been struggling. In his past 10 games, he's averaged only 8.9 PPG and, more importantly, cracked a 100 offensive rating just twice. This stems from the fact that he doesn't notch many assists (6.2 ast%) and his touch on three-pointers has evaded him, though he's more than capable from there (35.4 3P%). Nonetheless, Layman still is very good at driving to the rim and hitting mid-range jumpers (58.2 2P%). Defensively, his length at small forward helps him grab boards (15.3 DR%) and block shots (3.6 pct.).
The other forward is 6-foot-9 junior Robert Carter, who averages 12.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 1.4 BPG. Carter is a traditional power forward and does most of his work on the block. Teams have a tough time stopping him down low because he has a variety of post moves and is a tremendous finisher (62.7 2P%). He also doesn't mind stepping back and launching a couple of threes. He usually misses them, but, every once in awhile, he'll get hot like when he made a combined 8-of-10 in home games against Purdue and Ohio State. Defensively, he's a fantastic rebounder (22.2 DR%) and great rim protector (5.7 blk%).
At center, 6-foot-11 freshman Diamond Stone will return to his spot in the starting lineup after serving his one-game suspension. He's proven that he was the worth the hype he received as a five-star recruit when he doesn't let his emotions get the best of him. He's tallied 12.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 1.7 BPG in just 21.7 MPG this season. He scores easily around the rim (56.9 2P%), draws contact when he shoots (51.2 FTR, 76.6 FT%), is a menace on the offensive glass (14.0 OR%), and protects the rim with authority (8.0 blk%).
Off the bench, 6-foot-7 sophomore wing Jared Nickens, 6-foot-11 junior center Damonte Dodd, and 5-foot-11 sophomore guard Jaylen Brantley make the biggest impact. Nickens is a three-point specialist, but he's really been off this season. As a freshman, he made 39 percent of his threes. As a sophomore, that percentage has dropped to 32.1, and he's connected on only 9-of-48 triples (18.8 pct.) against Big Ten teams. Dodd will come in when Stone takes a seat. Dodd finishes well close to the bucket (64.2 2P%), but he doesn't get many touches (12.8 usg%) because he's also responsible for lots of turnovers (32.1 pct.). He makes his mark on the defensive end (5.1 blk%). Brantley will give Trimble and Sulaimon a breather, but he's not much of a scorer, making only 5-of-17 in Big Ten play.
Make. Your. Threes. Seriously. This shooting slump must end if Michigan wants to participate in the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines just had their worst two three-point shooting performances back to back, making a combined 10-of-44 treys (22.7 pct.) against Purdue and Ohio State, and have drilled more than 31 percent of their threes just once in the past six games. And now they're about to face a defense that's held opponents to just 30.7 percent beyond the arc. Michigan has to knock these down to beat Maryland.
Wall Off the Paint: In Michigan's first meeting with Maryland, Jake Layman, Robert Carter, and Diamond Stone combined for 55 of the Terrapins' 67 points as Maryland made 58.8 percent of its twos. The Terrapins lost that game because their guards couldn't hit a shot, connecting on only 6-of-24 threes. Given that their three-point shooting hasn't improved much since that game, they likely will have learned from their mistake and look to pound the ball down low against Michigan. The Wolverines need to play the type of defense they played against Purdue, sagging off the three-point line and hedging down when the ball is in the post. Michigan wants to force Maryland to win with jumpers.
Don't Let Melo Trimble Break Out of His Slump: Michigan wants 6-of-37 to continue.
Michigan just had four full days of rest, which could give the team a big boost and fresh legs and lead to a better shooting effort from behind the three-point line. However, that won't be enough as Maryland makes a concerted effort to score inside and takes out its rage on Michigan in a venue where almost every Big Ten team has been vanquished.
Maryland 82, Michigan 69