For the past few days, Michigan basketball has said it wanted to rebound from its first loss of the season — an 18-point blowout at the hands of Minnesota on Saturday afternoon.
Of course, doing exactly what you want to do is never a given in the topsy-turvy world of college basketball.
But the Wolverines wanted to get back on track as soon as possible, and they did just that by earning a relatively comfortable 24-point win over Maryland at home on Tuesday night.
With the victory, Michigan became the first Big Ten team to reach seven wins. It was also the Wolverines’ sixth conference victory by 11 or more points.
The Terrapins are not among the best teams in the conference — they currently sit in third-to-last place — but U-M’s decisive win was somewhat of an indication that Saturday’s loss to Minnesota was closer to aberration than normalcy.
Not only did the Wolverines get back guard Eli Brooks, who missed Saturday’s loss with a strained right foot, but they also seemed to recover some of the confidence and swagger that was missing in Minneapolis. After trailing for the entirety of Saturday’s contest, Michigan led for the entirety of Tuesday’s game against the Terrapins.
Michigan Wolverines guard Franz Wagner scores against Maryland Terrapins guard Eric Ayala during the second half Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021.
They hit 3s. They blocked shots. And they put together one of those customary second-half runs that clinched the victory early in the night, like they had done in the previous three games before traveling to Minnesota.
“We never planned on losing, but it happens, and we knew that this game was a bounce-back game and that they were gonna come out here with a vengeance,” said point guard Mike Smith. “We beat them at home, at their place. It’s gonna be a dogfight. We came out here with confidence and played hard and learned from our mistakes. Come out here and play to win, and it showed tonight.”
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Perhaps most importantly, the Wolverines’ offense did not struggle against a team that tried to employ the same defensive game-plan as Minnesota. The Gophers aggressively double-teamed Hunter Dickinson every time he touched the ball, limiting him to a season-low nine points and five turnovers. The Terrapins did the same, and while they held Dickinson to a meager three points on 1 of 3 shooting, Michigan’s offense generated open shots at will when it had the 4-on-3 advantage.
Dickinson was only credited with one assist, but he only turned the ball over once and effectively passed out of the double team each time, and from there, it took just an extra pass or two to find a quality look. The Wolverines scored 1.279 points per possession and buried Maryland with a barrage of 3s, making their first five while staking a 14-point lead and finishing 12 of 24 (tying a season-high in makes).
“We knew they were gonna double team, we practiced that,” Smith said. “We got the shots that we always shoot in practice and that we practice on our own. They fell today.”
Minnesota wasn’t the first team to double team Dickinson, whose streak of five consecutive Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards looks to be finally coming to an end. But the Gophers were the first team to do so effectively and constantly. Some recent Michigan teams have run into trouble during conference play when a Big Ten team finds an effective style of defense and the rest of the league follows suit.
Right now, though, the decision is not so easy for Michigan’s foes. Do they emulate Minnesota and run the risk of allowing a flurry of uncontested 3s to a team that has shot 37.6% from beyond the arc and possesses five capable shooters? Or do they try to guard Dickinson one-on-one, with an occasional dig down, and take their chances against a 7-foot-1 center shooting 72.2% on 2s?
The answer is not as clear as it might have seemed in the wake of Saturday’s loss. Just ask Maryland coach Mark Turgeon.
“I thought we were a half step slow tonight,” Turgeon said. “Maybe it was just Michigan. I thought Michigan was terrific. They’re really hard to guard. Low post, if you don’t double them, they score on you. If you double them, they can shoot threes. They shot the ball terrific tonight and moved the ball great.”
The Wolverines are now at the halfway point in their season, assuming they can reschedule a postponed game against Penn State (the Nittany Lions were dealing with a COVID outbreak). The statistics seem to indicate this is a team that has rounded into form.
The offense ranks No. 7 nationally, according to KenPom.com. The defense is at No. 9. Michigan still has an absurd advantage inside the arc, shooting 59.2% on 2s (No. 8) while allowing opponents to shoot just 40.8% (No. 4). The 3-point shooting and free-throw shooting (76.4%; No. 30) have been excellent. And the blocks keep piling up, too.
As Turgeon said, there are so many different ways that Michigan can win. Only time will tell whether other teams can do what Minnesota did — or whether the Wolverines will continue to rumble on.
“They’re really good, guys,” Turgeon said. “They’re good enough to win the whole thing. Whether they will or not, we’ll see. But I think they’ve got three or four pros, NBA guys out there. I think they can win the whole thing.
“They’ve got all the pieces, and they can go big, they can go small. They can do whatever they want. Guys are bought into their roles, so it could be a special year for them if they get hot at the right time. They’re really good. Got to give them credit.”
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan has what it takes to play for a title. Just ask Mark Turgeon
Published: 2021-01-20 12:17:29
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