6:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Michigan State -4, Over/Under: 140.5
My, how time can change the perspective of a matchup…. Coming into the season, many people targeted Maryland and Michigan State as the premier matchup in the Big Ten, with both teams expected to be vying for conference supremacy. And while each team has enjoyed a lofty place in the standings, both have struggled recently as the rigors of conference play are becoming very evident. For the Spartans (16-4, 3-4 in Big Ten), it’s been a terrible two weeks, as they’ve dropped three out of their last four games. Curiously, this stretch of mediocrity has coincided with the return of leading scorer Denzel Valentine (18.3 points per game), who missed a large share of the team’s thirteen-game winning streak to start the season, which culminated in a No. One Ranking in the Polls. However, an 83-70 loss at Iowa put them in a funk that they have yet to figure out, going just 3-4 since ascending to the top of the rankings. And given their current three-game losing streak, if they were to lose tonight, then Tom Izzo’s charges would have dropped four in a row for the first time since 2007. Apart from a seventeen-point debacle in a rematch with the Hawkeyes last week, the Spartans have lost each of their last two outings by one lone point apiece. In a 77-76 defeat at Wisconsin, the visitors nearly rallied back from a five-point Halftime deficit, but ultimately fell short thanks to a rather large disparity from the Charity Stripe; now we’ve heard of home court calls, but this was kind of ridiculous, as the Badgers netted 29-of-36 free throws (80.5%), opposed to the Spartans’ 12-of-16 (75.0%). That’s a plus-17 advantage for the home side, folks. Tuesday’s shocking 72-71 upset at the hands of Nebraska came courtesy of just good ol’ fashioned poor defense; Izzo watched in horror as his kids permitted the Huskers to shoot 50.0% from the field, including 56.8% from within the three-point arc. Conversely, the hosts couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean, netting only 42.1% of their attempts, including a very disappointing 13-of-39 (33.3%) from inside the arc. Second chance points off of offensive rebounds (11) and three-pointers kept things close, but ultimately, their inability to slow down Nebraska’s Shavon Shields (28 points) did them in. That and Valentine’s failed attempt at buzzer-beater as time expired. As is the case with Izzo’s teams, these kids need to play with more focus on the defensive end of the court. The two most alarming factors in their poor start to the conference slate has been their propensity for fouling and their inability to pressure the ball; surprisingly, Michigan State ranks dead last in the Big Ten is opponents’ free throws attempted (165) and made (122), and turnovers forced (56). Since December 29th, the Spartans’ have seen their opponents shoot fifty more freebies than they have, making forty more, equating to a minus-5.7 differential.
CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO ON MY 1-Week All-Access Private Magus Club
Meanwhile, apart from the weather, the climate hasn’t been nearly as dire in College Park, where Maryland (17-2, 6-1 in Big Ten) has had to sweat out some tough victories. Aside from a 100-65 thumping of Ohio State, the Terrapins have won three of their last four games by a slim margin of 4.0 points per contest. A Melo Trimble three-pointer as time expired lifted them past Wisconsin (63-60) last weekend, yet a slow start in Ann Arbor led to a shocking 70-67 defeat against Michigan (70-67). However, Tuesday’s 62-56 victory at home against Northwestern was helluva lot more difficult than it needed to be, as Mark Turgeon’s charges needed Overtime to thwart the upset-minded Wildcats. The problem here, was that despite their wealth of size along the front line, Maryland was hammered on the offensive glass; the visitors were absolutely relentless on the boards, securing sixteen offensive rebounds, leading to seventeen more field goal attempts than the home side, allowing them to overcome a dreadful 35.4% day from the field. To their credit, the Terps held a sound advantage from the free throw line (plus-11), and enjoyed very fluid ball movement, assisting on ten of their twenty-one field goals. The aforementioned Trimble scored a team-high eighteen points on 8-of-18 shooting (44.4%), along with six assists, while Robert Carter was extremely active with ten points, fourteen rebounds, and three blocks. The 6-9 Junior has been solid this season pairing with stud Frosh Diamond Stone (13.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.2 blocks) to give Turgeon one of the most intimidating frontcourts in the country, averaging 13.2 points on 57.7% shooting, and a team-best 7.0 rebounds and 1.6 bocks. The twin towers are the primary reason that Maryland has been the Big Ten’s top defensive team, leading the conference in Points Allowed (62.4), Opponents’ Field Goal Percentage (39.5%), Defensive Rebounds (27.7), and Blocks (5.7). Furthermore, whereas their counterpart tonight can’t seem to stop fouling the opposition, the Terrapins have been far more disciplined, yielding just 116 free throw attempts (5th Overall) with 74 made (2nd Overall).
Predicted Outcome: Maryland 64, Michigan State 61