The college basketball Saturday gets started in style as the no. 6 Michigan Wolverines host the no. 24 Maryland Terrapins. Oddsmakers list the Wolverines as 6-point favorites at home.
Michigan’s top-10 ranking could be in jeopardy after a mid-week loss to Penn State. Things fell apart for the Wolverines in Happy Valley, as head coach John Beilein was ejected right before halftime for arguing with the refs. The loss leaves Michigan tied with Michigan State at the top of the Big Ten standings at 11-3 in conference play and 22-3 overall.
Meanwhile, Maryland is just one game behind Michigan at 10-4 in Big Ten play. The Terrapins recently went through a slump in which they lost three of four games. However, they may be coming out of it with back-to-back wins and Nebraska and Purdue. Of course, the Terps have to play Michigan twice and Iowa once in their next five games, so they’re not out of the woods just yet.
The biggest difference for Maryland in their last two wins has been scoring contributions from their ancillary players. Freshmen Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins have combined for 40 points over their last two games, helped along by the sharpshooters making 10 3’s between them. Both are great outside shooters, and if they’re starting to show more consistency late in the season, the Terrapins become a different team.
However, Maryland still needs more from Anthony Cowan Jr. He remains the team’s leading scorer, but he’s still been held under 10 points in three of his last six games. The Terrapins have managed to win two of those games on the backs of Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith. But they’ll need a big game from Cowan to beat Michigan. With the way the Wolverines defend, they may not be able to rely on Ayala and Wiggins to bail them out by knocking down shots.
Tale of the Trio
All season long, Michigan’s shortcomings, while rare, have all coincided with a poor game from one of their three musketeers: Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, and Ignas Brazdeikis. Earlier this week, it was Brazdeikis who struggled, scoring just two points against Penn State. That was after the freshman scored just two points in a win against Wisconsin last weekend. If Brazdeikis is hitting a wall late in his freshman season, it could spell trouble for the Wolverines moving forward.
On the bright side, Michigan is starting to get a little more from their complementary players. Point guard Zavier Simpson is coming along while 7’1’’ center scored 17 points in the win over Wisconsin to help make up for Brazdeikis struggling. But against a quality opponent, it all comes back to the trio of Matthews, Poole, and Brazdeikis. Even in their wins, the Wolverines haven’t gotten much bench scoring, so it’s all on their starting-five to be on point every time out.
An Angry Wolverine
Coming off a loss, Michigan should be focused, especially against another top-25 team. The Wolverines are undefeated at home this season and have won most of their home conference by a comfortable margin. Bet on Michigan to hold serve at home and cover the 6-point spread against a tough Maryland team.