WHO: Maryland Terrapins (17-2, 8-0) @ Michigan Wolverines (13-6, 5-3)
WHAT: Women's basketball B1G Conference game
WHERE: Crisler Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
WHEN: Thursday, January 29, 2015 7:00 p.m. ET
WATCH: In Person
Meet the Wolverines - How charming
Michigan and my home state of Maryland share at least one common trait - multiple state nicknames. Maryland is known variously as the Old Line State and the Free State. Because parts of Michigan abut four of the five Great Lakes, it is sometimes known as the Great Lakes State. More commonly, it is known as the Wolverine State. As we will learn below, the wolverine is not a particularly pleasant mammal and the two competing explanations regarding the application of that moniker both seem to be a bit pejorative. According to 50states.com:
Some people believe that Ohioans gave Michigan the nickname "The Wolverine State" around 1835 during a dispute over the Toledo strip, a piece of land along the border between Ohio and Michigan. Rumors in Ohio at the time described Michiganians as being as vicious and bloodthirsty as wolverines. This dispute became known as the Toledo War.
Another reason given for the nickname is a story that has Native Americans, during the 1830s, comparing Michigan settlers to wolverines. Some native people, according to this story, disliked the way settlers were taking the land because it made them think of how the gluttonous wolverine went after its food.
According to an article from Michigan's Bentley Historical Library, students and alumni began referring to themselves as "Wolverines" as early as 1861. However, the article goes on to state, "How the ferocious animal came to be associated with the state and adopted as the university mascot remains a bit of a mystery, but there are several theories."
One theory that is easily debunked suggests that the state had an abundance of actual wolverines. According to the same article, "all the evidence points otherwise, as there has never been a verified trapping of a wolverine inside the state's borders, nor have the skeletal remains of a wolverine been found within the state's 96,705 square miles. The first verified sighting of a wild wolverine inside the state of Michigan occurred in February of 2004."
Another theory, promoted by football coach Fielding H. Yost, had to do with the fur trade at Sault Ste. Marie in which the wolverine pelts shipped to the east were referred to as Michigan wolverines. And then, of course, there are the two explanations cited above.
Some variation of the maize and blue color scheme has had a long and essentially permanent association with the university and its athletic teams. A group of students met in 1867 and adopted azure blue and maize as the official school colors. School officials specified the exact colors in 1912, but the athletic department "adopted its own shades of deep blue and bright yellow (gold)."
Like Indiana University, the University of Michigan has no mascot. Although the athletic department "has steadfastly maintained that such a symbol is unnecessary and undignified and would not properly reflect the spirit and values of Michigan athletics," when you read about the animal itself, well, you can reach your own conclusion.
Some fun facts about wolverines courtesy of Wikipedia:
The wolverine, Gulo gulo (Gulo is Latin for "glutton"), also referred to as glutton, carcajou, skunk bear, or quickhatch, is the largest land-dwelling species of the family Mustelidae (weasels). It is a stocky and muscular carnivore, more closely resembling a small bear than other mustelids. The wolverine, a solitary animal, has a reputation for ferocity and strength out of proportion to its size, with the documented ability to kill prey many times larger than itself.
Anatomically, the wolverine is a stocky and muscular animal. With short legs, broad and rounded head, small eyes and short, rounded ears, it resembles a bear more than other mustelids.
A light-silvery facial mask is distinct in some individuals, and a pale buff stripe runs laterally from the shoulders along the side and crossing the rump just above a 25-35 cm (9.8-13.8 in) bushy tail.
Like many other mustelids, it has potent anal scent glands used for marking territory and sexual signaling. The pungent odor has given rise to the nicknames "skunk bear" and "nasty cat."
Wolverines on the court - 2014-15
The Terps will need to be ready to play a Wolverines squad that defends its home court well and is coming off a 70-57 win over Illinois on Monday night. Michigan is 10-1 at home with their only loss coming in early December to a quality Princeton team currently 20th in RPI.
Maryland and Michigan have one common non-conference opponent. Both played Notre Dame and lost by 20 to the Irish. Of the Wolverines' five other losses, only one, when they were upset by Wisconsin in Madison, has come to a team outside the RPI top 50. And, unlike Indiana, the Terrapins' last opponent, Michigan tested themselves with the 27th most difficult out-of-conference schedule. (For comparison, Maryland's non-conference strength of schedule was 54th.)
As befits their record, Michigan is a team that executes very well in a few facets of the game, very poorly in a few others, and in the middle third for many. The things that Michigan does best are shoot three pointers, make free throws, rebound, and share the ball. The Wolverines make 38.2 percent of their three-point shots, good for second in the Big Ten and 12th in the country and they have been a tad better than that (38.4 percent) in conference play. Their 75.1 percent accuracy from the free throw line is second only to Maryland, albeit with a smaller sample size. Only Wisconsin has gotten to the line less than Michigan and, for the season, the Wolverines have attempted 110 fewer free throws than the Terrapins.
On the boards, the Wolverines out rebound their opponents by nearly six per game. When it comes to sharing the basketball, though their season average of 16.8 assists per game is fourth best in the conference, they have improved in league games where they average 18.5 and managed 21 assists on 28 made baskets in their game Monday night.
Players to watch
Cyesha Goree #22, senior, forward, 6'3". Goree is an example of how determination and hard work can transform someone ordinary into someone special. In her first two years with Michigan, Goree scored a total of 13 points. As a senior, she's averaging a team-leading 15.3 points per game and has stepped up that in conference play to 18.4. Goree also leads the team in rebounding, pulling down 10.4 per contest. Once again, she has fared even better in conference play with an average of 11.1 rebounds per game.
Katelynn Flaherty, #3, freshman, guard 5'7". Though she generally comes off the bench, the freshman Flaherty is second in scoring for the Wolverines at 14.6 per game. Like Goree, she has increased her scoring in conference games to 15.6, but that leaves her third behind Shannon Smith's 16.6 in conference play. She averages nearly 27 minutes per game and is most dangerous from behind the arc where she connects on 41.4 percent of her attempts. Together with Sierra Thompson, who also shoots it at 40 percent, the two players have taken 216 of Michigan's 301 three-point shots.
Unsurprisingly, the history between the Terrapins and the Wolverines is short. The teams met once before on November 30, 2011, as part of the B1G-ACC Challenge. Both teams were unbeaten coming into the game played in College Park at the Comcast (now Xfinity) Center. In a game that could, in some ways resemble Thursday's contest, Maryland pulled away in the second half to a 74-65 win. The Terps dominated the glass and were led by 24 points from Alyssa Thomas and a double-double by Tianna Hawkins while the Wolverines stayed competitive by making nine three pointers, including six of ten in the first half. In her one year at Minnesota, Maryland coach Brenda Frese's squad also hosted Michigan and picked up a similar nine-point win.
Michigan is going to be another solid Big Ten road challenge for Coach Frese and her Terrapins squad. The No. 35 RPI Wolverines have lost only once on their home court this season and will pose a different challenge from the conference teams Maryland has faced thus far.
Even recognizing that basketball has evolved to a point where the traditional definitions of on-court roles have blurred, fans can expect to see Michigan playing with four guards on the floor for much of the game. Coach Kim Barnes Arico's probable starting lineup will be Cyesha Goree (6'3"), Shannon Smith (5'7"), Siera Thompson (5'7"), Nicole Elmblad (5'11"), and Danielle Williams (5'9"). The first players off the bench Will Likely be the 5'7" Flaherty, and 5'10" Madison Ristovski. Another 5'11" guard, Maryland product Jillian Dunston, is also likely to see some action.
So clearly, Maryland has a significant size advantage. The Terps' roster lists one player, junior Brene Moseley at 5'7" while Michigan will start two and regularly play a third. Despite their small lineup, the Wolverines out rebound their opponents by six per game. If the Illinois game is representative, much of this comes from Goree's ability to tap the ball out to a teammate when she can't control the rebound herself.
We noted above that the Wolverines do some things poorly. Chief among those is defend. In conference play, they have given up nearly 70 points per game and are 11th in the league in conference play giving up 0.94 points per possession (ppp). In Maryland, they will face the highest scoring (82.8 points) and most efficient (1.10 ppp) offense in the Big Ten. Michigan is at or near the bottom of the conference in field goal percentage defense and the Terps need to exploit this as well if they are to come away with the win.
One of the strategies Michigan uses to try to compensate for their defensive shortcomings is to slow the pace of play. In all games, only Wisconsin at 69.2 possessions per 40 minutes (pp40) plays at a pace slower than Michigan's 71. Maryland carries the reputation of a running team. However, because they score so efficiently, the Terps have shown they are comfortable playing at a slower pace. In fact, since the start of conference play, Maryland's 73.7 pp40 makes them the eighth fastest team in the B1G.
Look for Michigan to switch defenses mixing some player to player with a 3-2 zone. One of the few things Maryland has not done well this season is shoot from three point range. Overall, Maryland connects on just 32.5 percent of their long range shots and only 29.9 percent in conference play so the Wolverines may try to force the Terps into taking more outside shots than Maryland would like.
The game is one Maryland should win if they do what they do well and stay focused on Michigan's three-point shooters using their length on the wings to keep them below their season percentage. The GAMER model predicts a six-point Maryland win with a 60.3 percent probability.