No. 17 Michigan surges into Maryland meeting
Michigan is playing great basketball at the right time, while Maryland is hoping it hasn't run out of time.
That's the backdrop for an intriguing matchup Saturday between the No. 17 Wolverines and host Terrapins as the Big Ten Conference heads into the final weekend of its hurried-along regular season.
Why the rush? Well, the Big Ten plants its big footprint in the Big Apple next week, playing their conference tournament in Madison Square Garden. And to do so, the league had to wrap up a week earlier than usual.
As usual, though, the Wolverines (23-7, 12-5 Big Ten) are rolling into the postseason with four straight wins and assured of no worse than a No. 5 seed at the showcase event. If things break right -- a win at Maryland and a Penn State victory over Nebraska Sunday -- Michigan can move to fourth and get a double-bye in the massive conference bracket.
Wolverines coach John Beilein said he thinks his team has arrived.
"The expectation is we're going to keep getting better," Beilein said. "That's our rule of thumb -- we are getting better. I think as a coaching staff we're learning who these guys are, and we've got a couple of guys that are really shot-makers and take a lot of pride in their defense."
The Wolverines escaped their Jan. 15 home date with Maryland in a 68-67 thriller. They overcame a 10-point halftime deficit and prevailed on two Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman free throws with 1.2 seconds left.
The Terrapins (19-11, 8-9) aren't ready for a 2017-18 departure as they have all sorts of incentive on Senior Day in College Park.
Maryland is trying to salvage a season ravaged by injuries, including the loss of preseason all-conference pick Justin Jackson and starting center Ivan Bender.
The Terrapins have won two in a row for the first time since early January, can finish with three straight victories, a .500 league record, claim a 20th win and get someone -- please, anyone -- to start talking about them as a bubble team.
"You can see guys believe in each other and we just continue to get better," said Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, hoping to get his team to a fourth straight NCAA Tournament. "We're playing with more confidence. We're playing a really good Michigan team, but I think 9-9 gives you a chance to still think positive thoughts."
The Terrapins have struggled on the road, but are 15-2 at home in Xfinity Center with the losses to Big Ten heavyweights Michigan State and Purdue.
Michigan is 5-5 on the road, including Wednesday's 72-63 victory at Penn State. Another quality road win could have bigger implications for a fast-finishing team and a cushier bracket landing spot in the NCAA Tournament.
"We didn't get a lot of wins last year on the road, and we've improved in that regard a lot," said the Wolverine's Moritz Wagner, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds in the first meeting. "We're not afraid of anybody."
Wagner leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounding (7.3).
Maryland's Anthony Cowan averages team highs of 15.7 points and 5.1 assists while contributing 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
Updated February 22, 2018