John Beilein talks about how Maryland's young team reminds him of Michigan's 2013 team that reached the national title game. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan coach John Beilein isn’t fond of comparing one team to another.
But when it comes Saturday’s opponent No. 24 Maryland, there’s one squad that comes to Beilein’s mind: the 2012-13 Wolverines.
“What's really interesting about (Maryland) is they are extremely young, but their bodies aren't young and their play is not young,” Beilein said Friday. “It reminds me a little bit of the class that we had back in '12-13 of three or four freshmen that have really been able to — whether it was through prep school or their DNA — their bodies are ready; their minds are ready.”
The parallels don’t stop there.
Before the 2012-13 Michigan team went on to reach the national title game, it was dealt an unexpected late-season blow on the road by Big Ten cellar-dweller Penn State.
Six seasons later, the No. 6 Wolverines find themselves in a similar situation having to regroup after being blindsided by the last-place Nittany Lions.
“It was tough after that game. Coach Beilein getting kicked out, the refs, everything,” freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis said. “It was a weird kind of game. The vibe was weird. After the game we were obviously all upset with each other, but at the end of the day we were still together.
“I feel like you learn more from losing. (MMA fighter/boxer) Conor McGregor always said, 'You either win or you learn. You never lose.' I take that mentality and I definitely learned a lot from that game. I made some silly mistakes. I feel like a lot of us could've done different things."
While Michigan (22-3, 11-3 Big Ten) hasn’t lost consecutive games in over two years, recovering from Tuesday’s fiasco will be no easy feat against Maryland.
The Terrapins (19-6, 10-4), who sit a game behind Michigan and Michigan State in the standings, lead the conference in rebounding margin (plus-10) and are the only team in the Big Ten team that ranks in the top five in both scoring offense (73.6 points, fifth) and scoring defense (64.6 points, fourth).
In a league that has no shortage of premier big men, Maryland arguably boasts one of the top frontcourt tandems in the nation with sophomore Bruno Fernando (14.6 points, 10.7 rebounds) and freshman Jalen Smith (12 points, 6.9 rebounds), who are both skilled rebounders, passers and low-post scorers.
“(Fernando) can just go and just keep pushing into you and pushing into until he's right at the basket,” Beilein said. “But then they're going to punch it to him in different situations and just like they do with (Wisconsin’s Ethan) Happ a great deal, and we've got to be able to defend that. Smith is so dangerous off the boards, but Fernando is just a really good block player and you don't see that a lot these days. It's straight power, too. Like Moses Malone.”
It doesn’t get any easier out on the perimeter where Fernando and Smith are surrounded by three players with at least 40 made 3s — junior Anthony Cowan Jr. (49), freshman Aaron Wiggins (49) and freshman Eric Ayala (43).
Cowan runs the show for Maryland with his ability to thrive in the open court and in ball-screen situations. And Michigan had a hard time containing him last season as evidenced by his 41 points and 12 assists in two games.
“He can shoot it, he takes it to the basket, he draws fouls,” Beilein said. “And they've had some pretty good guys around him as well, but he's just really exceptional. He's explosive quick and going left he might be as good as anybody we've seen as far as just going left hard. He's got a great skill set to him and he's been three years in this league now. They're a downhill team and his speed is incredible."
Despite all the problems Maryland presents, Beilein is hoping Tuesday’s stinging loss will have a similar effect and help his team lock in like it did back in 2012-13.
“We had profound observations yesterday about some of the things we could've controlled,” Beilein said. “We found 28 points that we could've just changed with one different decision. When they see that in a six-point loss, it's a pretty compelling argument that it wasn't just a bad day. We could've controlled that bad day better.”
The best way to move on from a bad day? Another top-25 win isn’t a bad place to start.
“We’re disappointed that we let one slip away,” junior center Jon Teske said. “I'm not going to say we were the favorite because you've got to go out there and play the game. There’s no gimmies. We kind of let one slip away and we realize that. We've got to go out there and be ready to play.”
Maryland at Michigan
Tip-off: Noon Saturday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: No. 6 Michigan 22-3, 11-3 Big Ten; No. 24 Maryland 19-6, 10-4
Outlook: Maryland’s Bruno Fernando leads the conference in field-goal percentage (66.8 percent) and Eric Ayala leads the Big Ten in 3-point shooting (47.3 percent)…This is the first time in the series both teams will be ranked in the top 25…Michigan is 5-0 against ranked teams this season…Michigan will wear pink Jordan shoes to bring awareness for breast cancer and honor survivors.