The college basketball weekend concludes with a Sunday matinee between the no. 9 Michigan Wolverines and no. 17 Maryland Terrapins. After Michigan held serve at home 65-52 against the Terps last month, the Wolverines are 1-point favorites on the road.
The Wolverines are currently locked in a tight race for the Big Ten regular-season title with both Michigan State and Purdue. A loss to Michigan State last weekend hurt their chances, especially with just two games left to play. Michigan will have to win both games if they want to have any chance of winning the Big Ten and perhaps earning a no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, the Terrapins are seeing their seed line for the NCAA Tournament start to drop after losing to Penn State earlier this week. Maryland is assured of a spot in the tournament, as they are 21-8 overall and 12-6 in Big Ten play. However, the Terps have lost two of their last four and could use a marquee win to kick off March and help them solidify a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
Maryland’s complementary players are likely to decide their fate in March. Leading-scorer Anthony Cowan Jr. appears to be back on track after slumping in late January and early February. Bruno Fernando is also a consistent force inside despite having an off night against Penn State with just nine points and five turnovers. Those two are good enough to keep Maryland in games against quality opponents, but it’s up to the supporting cast to get the Terrapins over the finish line.
Specifically, freshmen sharpshooters Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala need to show up late in the season. The two were a combined 0 for 8 from the perimeter against Penn State. Ayala has also been held scoreless in two of his last four games. If both can get it going, the Terrapins can beat anybody. But if Ayala continues to struggle or Wiggins has a bad shooting game, the Terps are vulnerable. Fellow freshman Jalen Smith is also key, as he can give Maryland a second inferior scorer to complement Fernando and make the Terps tough inside at both ends.
Is the Cavalry Coming?
For most of the season, Michigan’s success has been determined by the trio of Ignas Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole, and Charles Matthews. However, the team’s other two starters, center Jon Teske and point guard Zavier Simpson, are started to give that trio a little more support. Teske gives the Wolverines both size at 7’1’’ and another outside shooter. He’s also coming off a 22-point performance Thursday against Nebraska. Simpson has also been able to step up when needed and is averaging eight assists per game over his last four outings.
The emergence of Teske and Simpson give Michigan a little more margin for error. However, when the Wolverines have lost this year, it has usually coincided with one of their big three having a bad game. That was the case when Matthews managed just four points against Michigan State. Matthews is now battling an ankle injury that caused him to miss Thursday’s game, which could force Michigan to rely even more on their complementary players.
The possible absence of Matthews could be difficult for Michigan to overcome. But the Wolverines are still tough defensively and will have a chance to slow down Maryland’s supporting cast and perhaps even their stars like Cowan and Fernando. Bet on Michigan winning and covering the 1-point spread.