Maryland men’s basketball still vying for consistency after a Big Ten hiatus

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

After defeating its first Big Ten opponent in December, Maryland (8-6, 2-5 B1G) had yet to forge a consistent identity. Now coming off their second Big Ten win against Illinois, the Terps are still inconsistent but are certainly closer to where they should be and have a chance to secure their third league win of the season. 

Fortunately for Maryland, they’ll be returning to Big Ten action against a Michigan team they have played less than a month ago, in a road environment that they have seemingly thrived in all season. The Terps’ previous two Big Ten wins came against then No. 6 Wisconsin and then No. 12 Illinois on the road and their performances in both outings were nothing short of herculean. 

Hoping for similar results ahead of their matchup at Michigan may be misguided considering the Wolverines are the best in the league and are likely final four bound. But Maryland has shocked all season and are clearly capable of toppling talented squads. 

“I think we’ve kinda figured out how this team has to play,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. 

Hunter Dickinson will be leading Michigan’s talented lineup and will also be looking to bounce back from his abysmal nine-point outing against Minnesota. The Wolverines star freshman averages 16.8 points, 7 boards and 1.4 blocks, leading the team in all three categories. 

Dickinson’s Maryland homecoming on New Years Eve included a 26-point double-double, a 90% field goal percentage and some competitive jawing at Maryland’s bench. And thanks to a largely absent interior defense, he was met with almost no resistance around the rim and had one of the best performances of his budding career. 

Since then, Maryland has faced the likes of Trayce Jackson-Davis, Luka Garza and Kofi Cockburn and still has no answer for their frontcourt struggles. However, the recent progression of Galin Smith may serve as a minor remedy to the Terps low post ailment. 

Though his box score numbers aren’t entirely indicative of his efforts, Smith has made significant strides on defense, particularly as a rebounder. 

“Galin does everything right,” Turgeon said. “He’s giving up size and athleticism to a lot of guys but he knows how to play.” 

Michigan also boasts a smart and well-rounded set of guards that each provide a different style of play, similar to Illinois. With guard Eli Brooks probable to play with a right foot strain, much of the scoring load will be on talents such as Mike Smith and Franz Wagner who average 12 and 8 points, respectively. 

The two combined to score 35 points at Xfinity Center earlier this season, and took turns finding holes in Maryland’s defense on and off the ball. 

The possible absence of Brooks is also enough to warrant a more aggressive outing from Isaiah Livers who has scored a total of 13 points in his last two games against the Terps on 3-13 shooting. 

“The thing that makes Michigan what they are is they got a great low post player in Hunter Dickinson and they got four guys around him that can really play,” Turgeon said. “Reminds me a lot of our team last year.”

The first time these sides met this season, the Terps entered with a fully healthy team and inspired offense, leftover from its first Big Ten win. They left with an injured Darryl Morsell and a lifeless offense they failed to recapture until their win at Illinois two games later. 

Now with a tune-up game under their belt and an otherwise healthy team, the Terps will have to find consistency in what has already been a fickle season.

Defense is what ultimately has kept Maryland on pace with the league’s top teams and it will surely help against the Wolverines if the Terps can stay level-headed on both sides of the court. 

Additionally, if Maryland can properly prevent Dickinson from getting comfortable down low, Michigan’s production from the perimeter will assuredly follow. 

With Eric Ayala cleared to play, Aaron Wiggins gradually approaching midseason form, Donta Scott scoring at all three levels and solid bench play from Hakim Hart and Jairus Hamilton, a solid offensive showing by Maryland might be in the cards as well.

Still, the talent in Michigan is unfaltering and especially hungry after coming off a tough loss, leaving little room for mistakes. 

Tip off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. and the game will air on FS1.

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