Perhaps the most important takeaway from the Michigan Wolverines’ win over Northwestern on Sunday is that this can work in the Big Ten this season. Most games are not going to be track meets like the one in Iowa City or brick-fests like the one in East Lansing; most contests are going to be tight 40 minutes with similarly matched teams going back and forth.
Of course, the Wolverines would be happy for every game to play out like the beatdown of the Maryland Terrapins on New Year’s, but that seemed to be a rare moment of the stars aligning. Michigan is just 2-2 since that blowout, and while the Terrapins are 1-2, the story might be much different for games in College Park, where they have yet to lose in Big Ten play.
Michigan still has just one true road victory this season, and after letting a couple chances slip away, this is another shot at earning appending a key line to the struggling resume. There is a reason why road games are tough, but it sure would be great to take this one and actually build some momentum when the situation gets more difficult.
Michigan Wolverines (10-7, 4-2) at Maryland Terrapins (11-6, 2-4)
Date & Time: Thursday, Jan. 19, 7 p.m.
Location: Xfinity Center, College Park, MD
Big Ten Standings: UM 3rd, MD t-10th
Efficient, but cautious, guard play
It is Maryland, so that means the first talking point must be Hunter Dickinson. In the previous meeting, the dominant big man posted 32 points and 12 rebounds against his hometown team, and an encore performance in what could turn out to be his finale against the Terps would be valuable. Dickinson was a little quiet against the Wildcats thanks to double teams, but he was still very active on the glass, which is meaningful for this squad.
After getting out to a rapid start against Maryland last time, the Wolverines did quiet down a bit as they eased off the gas. As a result, they only ended the game at 1.08 PPP, which comes in part from relatively tame three-point figures. The Terrapins are the worst in the league inside the arc, though, so the plan of attack should still get getting to the hoop.
One thing that Michigan needs to do better is protect the ball. While Kobe Bufkin and Dug McDaniel had big games against Northwestern, the turnovers kept racking up. Maryland does not have a great defense, but does force a good number of turnovers, and that will be one way the home team tries to neutralize the attack, especially against the young guards.
Engage and suffocate
Only so much can be drawn from the first game in Ann Arbor, as nothing was falling for Maryland that afternoon. Since then, the team has been just about league-average in effective field goal rate, proving that one cold game is not really representative of the season, similar to how Michigan looked against the Spartans.
Still, this is not a great offense, and there is not a lot that stands out as overly intimidating. Turnovers have been an issue, as has scoring in the paint. Juwan Howard has been rolling with the two-big (too big??) lineup the last couple games, and Dickinson and Tarris Reed could cause the Terrapins a lot of problems inside, especially against a team that does get blocked often,
Otherwise, Michigan just needs to play its game defensively. That blowout win a couple weeks ago was mostly thanks to the defense, and it was a coordinated effort that contested jumpers, stuck with shooters, and did not suffer mental lapses. There have been questionable moments since that game – including a Northwestern run to end the first half – but this defense has proven that it can lock up this Maryland offense. Even with some regression to the mean, the Wolverines can absolutely win this game on the defensive end again.