Maryland started out the season looking like one of the best teams in the Big Ten, going 8-1 and then 10-3 in Conference play. But the Terrapins have slipped up in recent weeks, losing three straight before winning at Rutgers on Tuesday. While their chances of winning the Conference are over, Maryland still can lock up a 3-seed in the Conference Tourney with a win. In addition, a win would keep them off the 8/9-seed line for the NCAA Tournament, which is where Michigan State is sitting. The Spartans have been on the bubble for most of the season, but with a favorable Schedule in the month of February, picked up some big wins.
However, most of those big wins came in East LAnsing. Michigan State has struggled to show consistency on the road all season, as seen in big losses to Michigan and Purdue, but also at Penn State and Ohio State. But on the other side, Maryland has lost three of its last Four at home. Maybe a win at Rutgers helped get them out of a funk, but losing by double digits to Iowa last weekend can’t be considered good.
This matchup presents an interesting dynamic. The Spartans are led by two freshmen in the frontcOurt, while the Terps are led by Melo Trimble and the backcOurt. The winner will be determined by which team can stop the other’s strong suit. Maryland has the size and experience between Damonte Dodd and Ivan Bender to give Nick Ward some trouble. But the question will be if Dodd or Bender can attack Ward on the other end, in an effort to get him in foul trouble. Ward has often been in foul trouble this season and when he’s off the cOurt, the Spartans don’t have a true big. Just as interesting will be the matchup between freshmen Miles Bridges and Justin Jackson. Both are having great seasons, but Bridges is the much more touted one. Jackson is Maryland’s second-leading scorer, but they’ll need him to be better on the defensive end in this Game and the same can be said for LG Gill.
The Terps have had had success this season because Trimble has help in the backcOurt, whether that’s with freshmen Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter, or Jaylen Brantley returning from injury. Multiple guys can step up if Trimble is having a bad Game and that’s why this team has been so consistent. Cowan does a little bit of everything, while Jackson and Huerter are knockdown shooters. The Spartans lost Eron Harris a week ago and are a bit thin in their backcOurt, which gives Maryland a noticeable edge. Cassius Winston has been playing well, but isn’t a great defender, while Tum Tum Nairn gives up height and has had trouble against Trimble in the past. For Michigan State to win on the road, it will need someone like Alvin Ellis, Matt McQuaid or Joshua LAngford to step up. McQuaid played that role against Wisconsin last weekend and Ellis showed up in the loss at Illinois on Wednesday, but neither is consistent.
As long as the Terps rid themselves of their struggles in the win at Rutgers, things should be back to normal for them in this one. But if they can’t stop Ward or Bridges, this Game may be a little too close for comfort.
Our Pick – Mich State +4