No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball looks to continue its seven game win-streak against Michigan State Saturday. The highly-anticipated matchup will be featured on College GameDay.
While the Terps are riding a hot streak, they narrowly escaped against Nebraska Tuesday night in what was expected to be a blowout game.
“We definitely take Nebraska as a learning opportunity. I mean, every game in the Big Ten is huge and everybody’s going to give us their best shot,” Anthony Cowan Jr. said. “We had to put that one behind us, but we definitely have to learn from it.”
Now Maryland gets ready to take on a Michigan State team that it hasn’t managed to defeat since March 4, 2017.
Michigan State Spartans (17-8, 9-5 Big Ten)
Head coach Tom Izzo is not only considered to be one of the best coaches in the Big Ten, but also in all of college basketball. In addition to winning eight National Coach of the Year awards, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 9, 2016. Now in his 25th season with the Spartans, Izzo has won nine Big Ten regular season titles, six Big Ten tournament championships, made it to eight Final Fours and led his team to the 2000 National Championship, which will be celebrated at Saturday’s game.
Players to watch
Cassius Winston, senior guard, 6’1, 185 lbs, No. 5. There’s no question that this Michigan State team is anchored by the play of Winston. In his senior season, Winston is on about every award watch list possible, including the Wooden Award, Oscar Robertson Trophy, Citizen Naismith Trophy and the Bob Cousy Award.
The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year leads the Spartans with a team-high 18.3 points, 5.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game. His scoring mark is also third in the Big Ten. Winston also paces the Spartans with 54 three-pointers this season at 38.6 percent clip.
“He plays smart. I don’t know if there’s a smarter player in the league than him,” Turgeon said. “So he can read situations, he can read ball screens. He never gets tired, it’s amazing. ... From the neck up, he’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever coached against.”
Xavier Tillman, junior forward, 6’8, 245 lbs, No. 23. Tillman is the other half of Izzo’s core duo, that in many ways mirrors that of Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith. The junior is averaging a double-double this season, leading the Spartans with 10.2 rebounds per game – which is tied with Smith for second in the Big Ten — along with 13.6 points per contest on 52.7 percent shooting from the floor.
A versatile big man, Tillman also adds 3.1 assists and a team-high 2.1 blocks a night. He’s currently on the Karl Malone Award watch list.
Aaron Henry, sophomore forward, 6’6, 210 lbs, No. 11. Henry is Michigan State’s third leading scorer, putting up 9.5 points per game. The sophomore is also second on the team with 4.3 rebounds per contest.
While they can be limited on some nights, fully stopping Winston and Tillman is an incredibly hard feat, so a huge key will be limiting Henry. Michigan State has only lost two games at home this season, and Henry was shut down in both, scoring two points against then-No. 10 Duke on Dec. 3 and two points against then-No. 22 Penn State on Feb. 4.
Ball movement. Michigan State has a lot of strengths, but one of its biggest is its ball movement. The Spartans distribute the ball with ease to find the open look, and as a result they boast the highest percentage of assisted baskets in the nation. Their 17.8 assists per game are tied for the most in the Big Ten, and Izzo’s team also has the second-best assist/turnover ratio in the conference at 1.4.
Forcing turnovers. There aren’t many statistical weaknesses for the Spartans, but forced turnovers is one of them as the team only makes its opponents fumble the ball 11.4 times per game, which is tied for the 13th lowest in the Big Ten.
Three things to watch
1. How does Maryland handle the hype of a big game? What bigger stage could you ask for in the regular season than College GameDay? The Terps haven’t been featured on the program since 2016, so Saturday is a pretty big deal for the program. And the Spartan student section is sure to be fired up as well.
Maryland’s last road game at then-No. 20 Illinois on Feb. 7 was the biggest matchup in Champaign in 15 years, and the building was absolutely electric. The Terps were able to push past a hostile environment and silence the Fighting Illini crowd, and they’ll look to carry that mentality into this weekend.
“We kind of embrace the the environments, having everybody against us,” Eric Ayala said. “It brings us together — the whole staff, the whole team. On the road we need everyone to come together and do something positive for each other.”
2. Can the Terps right their woes in East Lansing? No one on the Terps’ roster has ever won a game at Breslin Student Events Center, as the last time Maryland left there with a victory was on Dec. 30, 2014 — the program’s first Big Ten game — after double overtime.
When the Terps last rolled into East Lansing, they were similarly riding a seven-game win streak — albeit earlier in the season than at this point. But the then-No. 6 Spartans put an end to then-No. 13 Maryland’s momentum, defeating head coach Mark Turgeon’s squad 69-55 on Jan. 21, 2019.
“They were grown man last year and we were just these little young guys going in there,” Turgeon said. “And we battled, I mean we got behind and we battled and tried as hard as we could. But this year, we’re a little bit more mature, guys have been there — all my freshmen have been there. It’s an amazing environment.”
Maryland hasn’t played an unranked Michigan State team on the road since that 2014 matchup, so now is the perfect chance for the team to erase the recent trend.
3. Will Maryland continue to get spread out contributions? Cowan and Smith are the clear guys that make this Terp team go, but for Maryland to be at its best, Turgeon needs contributions from all around. And over the last two games, production has really increased from the supporting cast.
Five players scored in double digits in the win over then-No. 20 Illinois, and Darryl Morsell was point shy of making the same happen against Nebraska Tuesday. Ayala is showing signs of being back at his best form, and he’s scored more points (27) over the last two than he had in the prior seven games combined.
With Michigan State’s two best players in Winston and Tillman likely guarding Cowan and Smith, getting contributions from all-around will be key for Maryland.
Vegas: Michigan State -6, O/U 138
ESPN BPI: Michigan State 75.4% chance to win
KenPom: Michigan State 70, Maryland 67 (Michigan State 63% chance to win)
Me: Maryland 71, Michigan State 70