Who: #3 Maryland Terrapins vs. Michigan Wolverines
What: The Terps continue their barnstorming tour through the Midwest.
Where: Crisler Center
Line: Maryland (-1.5)
Three things to know about Michigan:
They’re missing their best player:
Remember the last game against Wisconsin? The one where Melo euthanized a few thousand Badgers? Well there aren’t many similarities between Wisconsin and Michigan, but there is one as far as I can tell that’s apt here.
The Badgers had a few nice role players in that game, but absolutely everything revolved around Nigel Hayes. He was able to get his shots, and get them at the spots on the floor where he wanted them, pretty much at will. Sure, Koenig and Showalter showed up in the last few minutes, but Hayes’ terrific performance is what kept them close most of the game. It’s safe to say that if Hayes doesn’t play in that game, the Terps wouldn’t have required an 11th hour deep three from Trimble to stave off a comeback.
I say all this because Michigan is playing without Caris Levert, who I believe is even more integral to their success than Hayes is to Wisconsin’s. When he’s healthy, everything that the Wolverines do offensively runs through Levert. He leads the team in points (17.6), rebounds (5.4), and assists (5.2), and he often functions as a 6’7” point guard in the offense. He’s a great athlete and a great shooter that most people project as a first round draft pick if he can ever stay healthy. For his sake I hope he does, but for tonight he’ll be sitting on the bench.
Michigan has played two games without him, they beat Penn State at home easily (which I can no longer make fun of) and got thumped by Purdue on the road. Levert’s touches have been dispersed among the team, with most of them going to forward Mark Donnal, and guards Zak Irvin and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. Michigan could have a small advantage early with Levert out because Maryland only has two games of tape to judge how this particular group works, but all in all Levert’s absence means what could have been a close game probably won’t be one.
College basketball coaches all have their trademark systems. Dean Smith had the four corners offense. John Calipari has the dribble drive motion. Bo Ryan had the swing. John Beilein’s two-guard offense is just as distinctive as any of them. Without getting into too many specifics, if you’ve watched any of Beilein’s teams over the years, you have a decent idea of what to expect tonight. There is going to be one big guy usually situated between the foul line and the top of the key, and the four other players will be whipping the ball around the perimeter looking for the best possible three-point opportunity.
Like any Beilein team, Michigan takes a LOT of three pointers, to be exact 26 of them per game, and they make a lot of those shots at a blistering 42.6% as a team. Duncan Robinson and Derrick Walton both shoot over 50% from deep, and of the five players who have shot more than 30 threes on the season, only Zak Irvin is shooting under 30%. So long story short, no lead is safe against this team. It’s a unique, well-coached offense that can light up the scoreboard quickly if their shots are falling. Without a star player to focus on, the Terps should be working to run every shooter off the three-point line all night.
The 1-3-1 defense:
Teams usually go this as a gimmick when their man to man starts springing leaks, but the 1-3-1 is Beilein’s base defense and has been for years. Seemingly every time I see a 1-3-1 against Maryland, it takes a solid 5-10 minutes for the offense to adjust to where certain passing lanes have opened and closed. Trimble and Sulaimon have both proven to be more than capable ball handlers and decision makers, so I’m not necessarily worried about them. The real tests will be for the big guys like Carter and particularly Stone.
The 1-3-1 is made to collapse quickly in spots, and it demands quick decision making from the forwards on offense once they get the ball. Usually when Stone gets a feed in the post, he’s able to back his man down, make a few ball fakes, and go up with a shot. Tonight, he’ll need to prove that he can handle double teams by making the right pass. If he doesn’t, he could end up with a healthy amount of turnovers and on the bench in favor of Dodd or Layman in a small lineup.
Maryland – 79 Michigan – 73
Michigan is really well coached, and has very different offensive and defensive philosophies than any team Maryland has played so far or will play the rest of the season. But as we witnessed against Wisconsin, good coaching only goes so far against great talent. If Levert plays, he’ll need to have a hell of a first game off injury to give the Wolverines a shot at an upset. Without him, they’ll need to play nearly perfect basketball for 40 minutes on both ends of the floor. I see this playing out very similarly to last weekend in Madison.