The Michigan Wolverines put up an impressive effort against a good Illinois team on Friday, but ultimately the roster’s lack of depth cost the visitors the game. There are positives to take away from how the active players were able to put up a fight, but the reality is that Michigan is down to a .500 winning percentage with a tough 1-3 record in conference.
Given how the Big Ten is perennially one of the country’s toughest leagues, something major is going to have to happen — in addition to getting everyone healthy — for the Wolverines to charge back into the Tournament picture. However, that also requires taking care of business against the conference’s clear bottom tier.
No disrespect intended, but the Maryland Terrapins certainly fall into that bucket. At 1-5 in Big Ten play, this squad is struggling, and a trip to Ann Arbor gives the Wolverines a great shot to log another conference win, even if the roster is not back to 100 percent. It may be a dog fight, but Michigan has to find a way to win this one.
Maryland Terrapins (9-8, 1-5) vs. Michigan Wolverines (7-7, 1-1)
The biggest positive for the Wolverines against Illinois had to be the play of DeVante Jones. It has been an up-and-down season for the transfer point guard, with more frustrations than triumphs, but even in his better games he had not shown the type of dominance needed to really take over and keep his team in the game like he did in Champaign.
This was crucial with both Hunter Dickinson and Brandon Johns not suiting up, as well as Moussa Diabate’s foul trouble. On paper, the strength of this team seems to be in the front court, but both Jones and Eli Brooks have had to shoulder most of the burden as of late. Of course, there have also been plenty of problems on the defensive end, stemming from opponents getting way too many good looks, but at least there are a few options for fighting back on offense.
Maryland is not great, offering the No. 102 offense and No. 69 defense, per Kenpom, and posting the worst two-point shooting percentage in conference play. While opponents only hit shots around average against the Terrapins, neither steals nor blocks are a big factor, and points should be available for the Wolverines, even if that means another night of big minutes from deeper in the rotation.
Dickinson is questionable, but this would be a great game for him to come back for. The DMV native stirred the pot plenty last year as Michigan recorded a 3-0 record over Maryland, including a spicy Big Ten Tournament game where Juwan Howard was ejected. When things are not going well, sometimes it takes a little extra motivation, and games against Illinois and Maryland could be a good spark for this team.
It may sound really simple, but one thing that keeps plaguing Michigan is just bad play at the rim. Slashers keep missing open layups and the bigs miss putbacks, while opponents are collecting offensive rebounds on the other end and often finishing them with and-ones. At this point it has to be mental, which is why the Wolverines need to keep grinding and finding the fundamentals on both ends. This Maryland team is very beatable, but mistakes keep making things difficult.