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Maryland men’s basketball vs. Michigan preview

The Terps lost by 35 points to Michigan the first time they met in Ann Arbor.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland men’s basketball returns to College Park for a Thursday night rematch against Michigan at 7 p.m.

Maryland (11-6, 2-4 Big Ten) and Michigan (10-7, 4-2) will meet for the second and final time in the regular season Thursday as the Terps hope to erase the embarrassment they experienced the first time the Big Ten foes met in Ann Arbor on New Year’s Day. Michigan destroyed Maryland, 81-46.

Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said there was nothing positive to take away from the poor effort. While Maryland would have loved to bury that film following the loss, it will have to dig it up to learn how it can turn the tide against the Wolverines the second time around.

Maryland is 2-0 in conference home games this season and 0-4 on the road, so returning to XFINITY Center Thursday should bode well for the Terps.

What happened last time

When these two teams met in Ann Arbor, Michigan, earlier this season on Jan. 1, it was an absolute beatdown from Michigan. It was, and likely will stand as, the most forgettable Maryland performance this season, and maybe in Willard’s entire tenure.

Michigan beat Maryland by 35 points, Maryland’s largest loss since it joined the Big Ten.

The Terps did not score a point until six minutes into the game and made their first field goal eight minutes in. Maryland finished the first half with 13 points and ended the game with 46, both of which are season lows. Not a single Terp scored in double figures as Maryland shot 26% from the field.

Hunter Dickinson went off for 32 points and his primary defenders — Julian Reese and Patrick Emilien — both fouled out. After the game, Willard took full accountability for the embarrassing performance. Maryland must have a completely different game plan and intensity level for Thursday’s rematch, which it likely will given its failures on the road and success at home this season.

What’s happened since

Losing by 35 points to a team that isn’t that much more talented than Maryland is likely as bad as it gets for the Terps. So considering how ugly Maryland’s loss was, things have improved for Willard’s group since then.

Maryland went on the road to Rutgers a few days later, where it fell to the Scarlet Knights in another disappointing offensive showing. However, Maryland looked stout defensively and was competitive in a difficult road atmosphere.

The Terps then returned home and picked up a much-needed win against then-No. 24 Ohio State. Most recently, Maryland lost to Iowa in Iowa City, moving to 2-4 in the Big Ten and 0-4 in conference road games.

Michigan has followed a similar path since its emphatic win over Maryland — taking care of business at home but struggling on the road. Since New Year’s Day, Michigan beat Penn State and Northwestern at home but lost to Michigan State and Iowa on the road, the latter of which went to overtime.

The Wolverines, like the Terps, are considered a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament with just under two months until Selection Sunday.

Three things to watch

1. Frontcourt depth. Patrick Emilien is expected to be out “awhile” with an ankle sprain, Willard said following the Iowa game. That makes Maryland’s thin frontcourt even thinner. Emilien provided quality minutes off the bench as a backup big, replacing Julian Reese when he inevitably got into foul trouble — Reese averages the most fouls per game in the Big Ten. Now, Maryland has limited options. Willard tried giving Pavlo Dziuba and Caelum Swanton-Rodger sporadic minutes against Iowa, but neither of those two are reasonable long-term options. Last time Maryland played Michigan, both Reese and Emilien fouled out. Maryland may be forced to go small at times against the Wolverines, which could create matchup problems for the Terps.

2. How will Hunter Dickinson perform? The Michigan star and DeMatha product’s beef with Maryland and its former coach is well-documented. While the drama is primarily one-sided and generated completely by Dickinson himself, Thursday’s game will be the first time Dickinson will play in College Park with fans in attendance. He is likely in for a rude awakening from the Maryland faithful. The bad news for Maryland fans is there appears to be an extra juice from Dickinson whenever he plays the Terps. He dominated Maryland last game, and the Terps’ personnel is limited in its options to throw Dickinson’s way. Maryland’s game plan will surely be different this time around against the Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, but he may hush Maryland’s crowd fairly often Thursday.

3. Can Maryland start making threes? Maryland’s offensive game plan of limiting its 3-point attempts has worked the last two games and led to better offensive performances. Against Michigan and Rutgers, Maryland shot a combined 47 threes and scored a total of 96 points. Against Ohio State and Iowa, Maryland shot a combined 29 threes and scored a total of 147 points. Maryland’s better offensively when it attacks the rim and limits its 3-point attempts, but that only works against teams without quality bigs. Against Michigan, Maryland will have to adjust and find ways to get Dickinson away from the basket. It will also have to make threes at a better clip than it has this season. If Maryland is going to score against bigger teams, the second-worst 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten is going to have to start making shots.