Maryland did an excellent job surprising the crowd at the Crisler Center during its game against Michigan on Saturday. Unfortunately, the surprise came about because of how good the Terps were making the Wolverines look. Coming into the game, Michigan had the 302nd-ranked tempo in the nation, according to KenPom, with only Wisconsin behind them in the Big 10. This rating comes as a result of the team getting their points through methodical, patient plays that build-up into finding an open man, or forming an open lane. Today, however, John Beilein’s squad spent the opening 20 minutes looking like they were going to run it down Maryland’s throat.
The Terps’ dedication to coughing up dribbles, fumbling touches in the post and throwing unwise cross-court passes helped Michigan create a fast-paced offense that was looking to tire its opponent before halftime. The Wolverines had smothered Maryland so well that it wasn’t until the 16 minutes had passed in the game that the Terps had more points than turnovers. But Maryland was still able to cut a lead of 15 all the way down to nine at halftime. The reason? Michigan simply was not built to maintain the kind of speed it was producing. Sure, the Wolverines’ defense is known for creating turnovers, but they’re hardly ever the type to turn them into a Phi Slama Jamma-type show at the other end, and it showed. The kind of style that they were committing to is exactly the strategy that often exposes slow-tempo teams with no true superstar that can get a bucket on a whim because they fundamentally can’t keep up with faster opponents—UMBC defeated Virginia this way in the national tournament last year.
It didn’t matter that that kind of mistake happens to slower teams that are trailing a game, the Terps still had the Wolverines exactly where they wanted them. They used this momentum to start off the second half shooting 78% from the field and even cut the lead down to three at one point, thanks to performances from Anthony Cowan and Bruno Fernando, who were held to 0 points in the first half. But they weren’t even able to crack a tie with their opponents, mostly because lazy transition defense allowed buckets like these:
While that was happening, Michigan had gotten patience back into its offensive flow. The Wolverines bled out the shot clock on possession after possession, using crisp passing to get the ball where the team needed it to go. As Maryland started to miss shots it was making just minutes earlier, Michigan was making life tough on its opponent by continuing its game. The more the team stuck to its identity, the more easy shots became available.
The frustration of not being able to stop that well-oiled machine of an offense clearly began to mount among the Terps and it resulted in a prime example of how the Wolverines’ playing style messes with the psyche of opposing teams. The reality of how few possessions you have remaining sink in as the game gets brought to a grinding halt and causes teams to throw anything they can at the rim.
In that 78-second span, Maryland, in a quest to quickly cut the lead, threw up five three-pointers and missed every single one of them. Even the two points they did score was ugly as Aaron Wiggins stole a rebound from his teammate to tip a missed shot back in. Michigan, on the other hand, pushed its lead to eleven on two-of-two shooting. Patience on one end led to desperation on the other.
The game was essentially over at that point but wasn’t officially sealed until Zavier Simpson sunk his patented sky-hook to put his team up 11 with 2:33 left in regulation.
This win on its own came at a great time as it followed a tough road loss to Penn State, and gives Michigan some breathing room in the Big 10 standings. But the way the Wolverines won today should help reinforce the notion that their current identity works pretty damn well—a thought that becomes more important to hold onto come tournament time.