MICHIGAN ST SPARTANS (18-12)
MARYLAND TERRAPINS (23-7)
XFINITY Center – College Park, MD
Tip-off: Saturday, 2:00pm ET
Michigan State seeks more March magic as they hope to knock off Maryland and bolster their NCAA resume.
Michigan State (15-14 ATS) still may become a dangerous team in March, like so many past Tom Izzo-coached Spartans squads, but their postseason hopes hit a speed bump on Wednesday with a loss at Illinois (73-70, MSU +1). Michigan State was coming off a span where they took six of their eight games leading up to last night’s loss, turning a once out-of-reach at-large nod to the NCAA tournament into a spot squarely on the bubble. The Spartans had the ball in their hands with less than 10 seconds left and a chance to win, but couldn’t get a shot at the rim. The game-sealing turnover symbolized the evening for Michigan State, who would cough away 15 turnovers in the game (to just nine assists). Maryland (17-10-1 ATS) will have to hope that Rutgers on the schedule (2-15 Big Ten) cured what ailed the Terrapins in their three straight losses prior to pounding the Scarlet Knights on Tuesday (79-59, MD -5.5). While a 20-point road win is never something to overlook, there is still most likely a bad taste in Coach Mark Turgeon’s mouth from dropping their last two at the XFINITY Center (Iowa, Minnesota). Both losses came from an empty homestand last week and made for three defeats in a row (at Wisconsin, Feb. 19) before the aforementioned win at Rutgers this Tuesday. The Terrapins are now an uninspiring 12-5 (7-7 ATS) at home this season. The Spartans are 2-6 (3-5) on the road this season and have dropped their last three away from the Breslin Center. Both teams have trended towards the OVER in recent games, with Maryland hitting the OVER in five of their last six, while Michigan State’s last four games have all been OVER. That said, the last three times (all Michigan State wins) these two programs have met, the total has been UNDER. Michigan State is 3-2 (1-4 ATS) against Maryland since the Terrapins joined the conference in 2014. Maryland, however, is 3-0 ATS the three times they’ve played the Spartans in College Park. On the injury front, both Michigan State and Maryland have veterans who’ve recently been deemed out for the season: Spartans senior G Eron Harris (10.4 PPG) and Terrapins junior C Michal Cekovsky (7.6 PPG) will both be in street clothes.
Michigan State’s youth was on full display in Wednesday night’s loss at Illinois. Chief amongst the Spartans’ 15 turnovers – they average 14.5 TO/G (289th in NCAA) - was F Miles Bridges (16.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG) getting stripped on a potential game-winning drive in crunch time. Bridges was otherwise brilliant, with 21 points and 10 rebounds – his fifth double-double in conference play. Without the senior Harris, Coach Izzo relies on four freshmen to play major minutes (Bridges, Nick Ward, Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston). Langford (6.6 PPG) had the most high school buzz besides Bridges coming into East Lansing, but has taken the longest to earn Coach Izzo’s trust. The athletic wing has played 20+ minutes in his last six contests, averaging 10.0 PPG in that span. Taking the good with the bad, Langford has nine turnovers in his last three games. Ward (13.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG) is a guy who produces whenever he’s on the floor, but needs to stay out of his own way (and out of foul trouble). Ward had 42 points in 43 minutes in wins over Wisconsin and Nebraska last week, but only managed 11 points against the Illini on Wednesday. Winston (6.9 PPG, 5.4 APG) has really struggled with his shot as of late (5-of-26 FG over his last four games) but has distributed well (8+ assists in three of his last five games) to make up for it. Senior G Alvin Ellis (6.8 PPG) has stepped up into the injured Harris’s role of sharpshooter with four 15+ point games in conference play (after not scoring more than eight points in any non-conference game). The Spartans don’t normally rack up the points (72.4 PPG, 184th in NCAA), but had scored 86.0 PPG in last week’s wins before coming back down to earth with 70 in Wednesday’s loss. Don’t let the mediocre scoring mark let you think Michigan State isn’t a very good offensive team: The Spartans are ninth in the country in assists per-game (17.3) and shoot 47.6% FG (34th in NCAA). While Michigan State’s defense isn’t the elite unit it has been in the past, Coach Izzo’s squad holds teams to 41% FG (36th in NCAA).
Coach Turgeon’s Terrapins have an easy barometer to follow for success: control the glass and win the game. All of Maryland’s seven losses this season have seen their victorious opponents grab 36 rebounds or more (39.2 Reb allowed in seven losses). The Terrapins are especially abysmal at preventing second chances (10.2 OReb allowed per-game, 317th in NCAA). Even in snapping their season-high three game losing streak with a 20-point win in Piscataway against Rutgers, Maryland allowed the lowly Scarlet Knights to grab 16 offensive rebounds. The Terrapins allowed 18 and 15 offensive rebounds to Wisconsin and Iowa, respectively, amongst two of their last three losses. Rebounding wasn’t the issue against Minnesota, just shoddy defense. Maryland allowed 55 second-half points to the Gophers in their Feb. 22 home loss (89-75), despite outrebounding Minnesota and dishing out 22 assists to just 10 turnovers. The bad defense carried over to a 47-point first half for Maryland’s next home opponent, Iowa, as they allowed the Hawkeyes to shoot 16-for-26 from beyond the arc in another double-digit home loss. These are the demons that Maryland will have to exorcise as they try to find success back on their home floor against a team arguably better than both Iowa and Minnesota. The last time Maryland faced Michigan State it was also in March, as the Spartans bounced the Terrapins in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament last season. Star G Melo Trimble (16.9 PPG, 3.7 APG) shot just 2-for-15 FG in the loss that day. After scoring 59 points combined in two mid-February games against Northwestern and Wisconsin, the junior guard is struggling with his perimeter shot again. Maryland needs Trimble at his best to compete with the upper-echelon of the Big Ten, but Trimble is just 3 for his last 19 from beyond the arc (three games) and has scored just 32 points in that span.