Maryland men’s basketball will look to ring in the New Year with more positive momentum as it plays host to No. 16 Michigan Thursday.
The Terps are coming off of their first win over a top-10 team since January 28, 2016, taking down No. 6 Wisconsin earlier this week.
Playing in the Big Ten Conference has consistently presented high-level talent across the board, but 2020-21 is looking to be a different animal. This week, nine of 14 teams in the conference are currently seated in the top-25, setting up a stretch where Maryland is facing ranked teams in seven of nine games in a row.
“I’m a competitor, so I love the basketball aspect [of the Big Ten],” Darryl Morsell said. “The cold cities, the snow and long flights, I don’t like none of that. But when it gets down to the on-court stuff, every night that you probably playing a pro on the other team. This is what you sign up for, this is what you work hard for, this what you dream of, playing at this level.”
Thursday’s game will give Maryland a chance to beat two top-25 teams in consecutive games, something the Terps have not done since Feb. 25 and Feb. 28, 2007. when they knocked off No. 5 North Carolina and No. 14 Duke, respectively.
Tipoff between Maryland and Michigan is set for 8:00 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN.
Michigan Wolverines (7-0, 2-0 Big Ten)
2019-20 record: 19-12 (10-10 Big Ten)
Head coach Juwan Howard is in his second season leading his alma mater. Despite finishing ninth in the Big Ten in year one, the future is bright for the Wolverines.
Howard’s presence has worked wonders on the recruiting trail, with Michigan having the top-ranked Big Ten class in 2020 and the No. 1 class 2021 class at the moment. Moving forward, the program will look to grow success on the court with these highly-talented recruits.
Despite holding a 7-0 record this season, Michigan has yet to face any significant opponents. The Wolverines’ wins in Big Ten play have come against Nebraska (4-5) and Penn State (3-3), while the team also had its ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup with NC State postponed.
Players to Know
1. Isaiah Livers, senior forward, 6-foot-7, 230 lbs. No. 2 — Livers has shined so far this season as one of the go-to scorers for the Wolverines, with a frame that allows for him to play both inside and out.
Livers declared for the 2020 NBA Draft but did not sign with an agent, ultimately returning to Ann Arbor for his senior season. He’s averaged 15.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game this season while shooting 51.4 % from the floor and 42.1 % from three-point range.
2. Franz Wagner, sophomore guard, 6-foot-9, 220 lbs. No. 21 — Michigan has another walking mismatch often on the floor with Livers, as the 6-foot-9 guard Wagner can be tough to contain. In his second season at Michigan, Wagner has averaged 11 points and 7.3 rebounds while playing with an incredible motor.
3. Hunter Dickinson, freshman center, 7-foot-1, 255 lbs. No. 1 — Dickinson has stepped in as a key piece for this Wolverine program as a freshman, averaging 15.3 points and a team-leading 8.4 rebounds per game.
The DeMatha product has attempted to stir-up controversy over his recruiting process, claiming that Maryland should have recruited him harder.
“Yeah, I did feel a little disrespected when I wasn’t recruited by them,” Dickinson said. “But I’m really glad with where I am right now. I’m 100% saying this is the spot for me. I’m happy to be here at Michigan.”
Shooting. Similar to the Terps, Michigan has done a great job of being efficient on the offensive end. The Wolverines are No. 2 in the Big Ten in field goal percentage, making 51.5% of their shots so far. Michigan also averages 82 points per game, meaning the Terps (74.6 ppg) will need to be strong defensively to ensure a close battle.
Turnovers. Michigan ranks No. 13 in the Big Ten in turnover margin, giving up 2.72 more possessions than they take away. With the game figuring to be decided by a handful of plays, Maryland taking advantage of turnovers could be a difference make down the stretch.
Three Things to Watch
1. Who will be the answer inside? Maryland did a good job against Purdue of keeping points outside of the paint despite facing top-talent in Trevion Williams and Zach Edey. Dickinson will make things difficult with his big body, so the Terps will once agains have to be strong inside.
“We’re playing against such good post players, it got our attention,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “I think we’ve gotten a little tougher, our ball pressure has gotten better, our communication has gotten better. But the bottom line is I think we’ve gotten tougher and we’ve taken on challenges.”
2. Is free throw shooting fixed? After shooting an ugly 10-for-21 against Purdue, the Terps bounced back and converted 80% of their shots from the charity stripe on Monday. Morsell missed the only free throw in the second half, where the team combined to go 11-for-12 (91.7 %) from the line. If Thursday’s contest is as close as predicted, a strong effort from the line could be crucial just like on Christmas Day.
3. Can the Terps carry momentum from Monday’s win? Maryland was unable to turn positive momentum from defeating La Salle into a win against Purdue on the road, but after upsetting No. 6 Wisconsin and returning home, things look a bit more bright. A win against No. 16 Michigan would close out 2020 with a bang and have the program skyrocketing into 2021.
“We talked about it before we left the locker room the other night,” said Turgeon. “I was like ‘You’re gonna enjoy it. But guys, we got to wake up and we’re still 1-2 in league play.’ We got to be ready. We got to be locked in, got to play well.”
Vegas: Michigan -1.5 (O/U 142.5)
ESPN BPI: Michigan 52.4% chance to win
KenPom: Michigan 72, Maryland 71 (Maryland 48% chance to win)
Me: Michigan 74, Maryland 70