The Michigan Wolverines had been poor all season but had avoided the back-breaking mistake before Thursday’s embarrassment against Central Michigan. Now the Wolverines are buried in a massive hole with no quality wins and an inexcusable loss, not to mention that the team looks completely lost and unmotivated.
Michigan still has 19 opportunities to rebuild the resume and save the season, but drastic improvements are needed immediately. The first chance to respond comes on New Year’s Day against the Maryland Terrapins at home, yet another shot at the apparently elusive Quad 1 win for the maize and blue.
Maryland is a top-25 team per Kenpom and should compete for a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament. The Terps beat Illinois and lost at Wisconsin during the early conference games and also lost to ranked Tennessee and UCLA teams. There is no question which of these two teams is playing better, but Michigan can — and arguably needs to — win this one.
Maryland Terrapins (10-3, 1-1) at Michigan Wolverines (7-5, 1-0)
Date & Time: Sunday, Jan. 1, 4:30 p.m.
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Wake up and execute
The Michigan offense picked the wrong day to combust, producing its second-worst effort of the season against Central with just 0.95 PPP. This is the latest example of the team playing up or down to its opponent, which hopefully means the effort will be much improved against Big Ten schools with every game essential.
On Thursday the shooting was ice cold, especially in the midrange. The Wolverines need someone other than Kobe Bufkin to be able to make a shot, and right now it is not clear who can even step up. The Terps have a very sound defense and rank in the top 20 in opposing eFG rate, meaning easy shots are unlikely to be there.
Even in losses, Maryland has been pretty staunch defensively, often holding opponents under 1.00 PPP. The exception was against UCLA, who used hustle and athleticism to continuously get to the rim and find the shots it wanted on the way to a blowout win. The Bruins are an elite team, but effort is a universal concept, and Michigan does have some athletes; unfortunately, both facets have been far too absent this season so far.
In many regards, Michigan’s turnaround hinges on Hunter Dickinson. The big man has been frankly mediocre this year and is playing well below his abilities. Dickinson scored 21 points on 10-for-14 shooting in this matchup last year and has a public dislike for the Terps after growing in up in the area, so if there was ever a game to jumpstart the junior, and subsequently his team, this would be it.
Protect the core
Dickinson is also needed on the defensive end, as Maryland is quite productive on offense. The Terps are a top-20 two-point shooting team and get balanced contributions across the lineup. Hakim Hart and Julian Reese may not post massive usage rates, but both are extremely efficient and hit above 70 percent of their shots in the paint and will get a healthy number of looks.
If Dickinson and company can defend the hoop, the Wolverines will have a shot. The Terps are not a great team from deep, but they do take a lot threes. In their three losses this season they have gone a combined 22-for-75, which is a high volume and poor hit rate (29.3 percent). Challenging, and baiting, Maryland into jumpers makes a lot of sense on Sunday.
One area that cannot go against Michigan is on the defensive glass. Rebounding issues have been well documented this year, but the Terps have struggled to generate many second chances on their end of the court. If the Wolverines do create misses but again concede rebounds to their opponent, there is not going to be a path to victory.