Somehow, it’s already the final game of the regular season for Michigan basketball. It’s been a wild year for this team, the conference, and really the country as a whole and who knows what March holds.
The Wolverines faltered a bit last week but were able to get back on track with a commanding 24 point win over Nebraska on Thursday, thanks in large part to a great second half. Sunday’s test against Maryland won’t be quite as easy.
With three games to go in the season, the Terrapins had a chance to win the conference championship outright. But, in typical fashion, they choked by losing at home versus Michigan State and getting popped at Rutgers. Now they sit in a position where they have to beat Michigan to even win a share of the title. Wisconsin won its share by beating Indiana and clinched the #1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament next weekend. If Michigan State wins, they will also win a share of the conference.
While Michigan isn’t playing to win part of the conference, a win at Maryland could affect their seeding for both the conference tournament and more importantly, the NCAA tournament. They are currently projected to be a No. 6 seed, but stealing a win Sunday and adding in at least another Quad 1 win next weekend would have them in a prime spot to jump to a No. 5 seed.
What to Watch For
The Cowan-Smith duo: This point guard-center combination is one of the top in the country. Cowan, the senior point guard, is a four year starter and the leader of this Maryland team. He’s a very good scorer and passer, but his defense is the part of his game people most often overlook, as he made the Big Ten All-Defensive Team two years ago. Jalen Smith is arguably the most athletic big man in this conference. He’s not going to win the player of the year award in the conference (Luka Garza is nearly a lock at this point), but he was a Naismith Trophy Semifinalist and very well may be the first player drafted from the Big Ten this summer. He can score from anywhere on the floor and excels at facing up and shooting over defenders. Smith can finish with either hand on the block yet also shoot the three. Lastly, he’s lengthy and can alter shots on the defensive end, making him as well-rounded as they come. Jon Teske is going to have his hands full, but at 7-foot-1 he will be one of the biggest guys Smith has faced.
Can Isaiah Livers keep it going: We all know it’s been a frustrating season for Isaiah Livers as he has dealt with numerous injuries that have forced him to miss several games this season. At times he has looked fully healthy and in other instances, he hasn’t. Last Thursday, it was very encouraging to see him be aggressive and play well. He finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, his first double-double of the year. He is Michigan’s most gifted scorer and they need him to be that guy in order for this team to be successful. For the Wolverines to have a shot to win this game on the road against a very good opponent, Livers is going to have to hit big shots.
Free throw shooting: Maybe the area of the game where these teams differ the most is free throw shooting. In conference play, the Terrapins have shot 77.4 percent from the line whereas the Wolverines have only shot 71.6 percent. Several times, Michigan has had games come down to needing to make free throws. We’ve seen it go south, like the home game versus Illinois, but have also seen Zavier Simpson knock down some key ones, like at Madison Square Garden against Rutgers. Maryland has actually committed the most personal fouls of any Big Ten team, so look for the Wolverines to get plenty of chances at the stripe.
Maryland is 15-1 this season at home, with their only loss coming against the Spartans. I can see this game going either way because Maryland is historically rather unsuccessful in March and Michigan has that “Let’s play spoiler” type of attitude anyway. Unfortunately, I don’t know if Michigan can make enough shots to win in the end. Maryland 70-64.
Date: Sunday, March 8, 2020
Location: Xfinity Center, College Park, Maryland
Time: 12:00 p.m. EST
Television/Streaming: FOX/FOX Sports Go